These Details About the Costumes from Only Murders in the Building Will Change How You Watch the Show
There are some shows out there that are worth watching twice. The first time is before you know how things end, when you're sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for the next big bombshell to be revealed. The second is so you can go back and comb through all the details you may have missed — the tiny, unnoticed hints, hat tips and Easter eggs that would have allowed you to be in-the-know all along.
Only Murders in the Building is still airing on Hulu, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday, but even before streaming the show's October 19 season finale, we have a feeling it's a true two-timer. Aside from being a campy murder mystery with an oddball cast we can't help but love, the show's costumes are actually incredibly detailed — even more so than we realized at first.
The show's costume designer, Dana Covarrubias, whose work you've also seen on Rami and Master of None, filled us in on exactly why Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and former actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) wear what they do, and it actually adds a lot to the overall story.
If you're ready to see this show in a whole new light, read on to find out the meaning behind these playful looks that are popping up on your screen, from that collection of bright coats to a single pairs of jeans.
It feels as if we've been seeing these costumes for so long — especially Selena Gomez's looks through paparazzi photos. How do you plan so far ahead to make sure everything still works when the show airs?
"That is such a funny thing. In some ways, I like to keep the silhouettes really classic, because then you know it's never going to be wrong. If it's really simple, like a trench coat or some of sort of '70s faux fur, that stuff is never going to go out of style. Then, you mix other elements in there that are more current."
"As a costume designer, you do kind of have to be a little bit of a predictor of the future because the show is coming out a year from when you film it. You really have to be up on the trends and looking forward. It's a little bit of honing in on what's classic and never goes out of style, then also being a bit of a trend-watcher and being a step ahead."
How did you define each character's individual style?
"We spent a lot of time thinking about how each person uses their clothing as a tool, sort of within the mystery itself. Selena's character [Mabel] uses her clothing as a type of armor and she sort of protects herself from other people with her clothing. Charles, [played by Steve Martin], would use his clothing for comfort or self-soothing. And then Oliver [a Broadway director played by Martin Short] uses his clothing as a type of performance."
"We had these three very separate ideas of how our main characters would physically use their clothing to help them within the mystery. They're all kind of hiding from their past, or are a little bit afraid of what's happened in the past. I can't give away too many spoilers, but things have happened in the past that you don't really know about. But they are using their clothing in a way that communicates that visually. From there, we decided on really different color palettes for each of them"
Can you tell us about the specific color palettes?
"With Selena, my main color inspiration for Mabel was the marigold, so reds, golds, and yellows. We were trying to figure out a way to represent her Mexican heritage — just like Selena, I'm also from Texas and I'm half Mexican. But we wanted to do it in a way that wasn't too over-the-top or too in-your-face and silly. The marigold is really significant iconography of Mexican culture. It represents grief and sorrow, but also creativity and passion, which felt appropriate for her character because she's an artist and really creative, but she's also grieving a loss from her past and trying get past it."
"When we were doing research for Oliver, we found a really beautiful photo of a Broadway theater. So, the colors that were in the theater were the main inspiration for his character — all of these purple velvets, red velvets, and the gold proscenium. Really rich, beautiful theatrical colors became his palette.
"We decided on blue for Charles, to represent a blue world. But I think, literally, I was inspired by Steve's eyes. He has such beautiful blue eyes and blue looks so good on him. But it also goes with his character's personality — a bit cold, a bit stand-offish, trying to kind of hide and protect himself at all costs.
"But we also wanted to make sure that the looks all balanced each other and wouldn't look too weird next to each other."
That's really interesting, and something you might not immediately notice when you're watching a show and seeing the looks together.
"One of the trickiest parts of the job, I think, is like trying to find the right balance, because sometimes you're doing fittings months apart for different actors. You'll fit someone in spring, and then you're seeing other actors until the winter because of the timeline of the show itself. You also never shoot the episodes in order. You may be shooting scenes for the finale episode at the beginning of the schedule, so you have to constantly keep in mind how it's all going to fit together."
"Even if the characters are not in the same scene, they might be in the same episode. You have to really look at the whole episode and think, 'Ok, Selena wore marigold in this scene and this scene, but maybe we don't want her to be in it the entire episode.' You have to be aware. It's also like, 'Well, if Marty is wearing a blue shirt in this scene then we can't have Steve in a blue blazer.' It's all about balance."
Are there any items that people wear more than once?
"There are a lot of shows out there where the actors are constantly wearing new clothing, and I think as a viewer of television, sometimes you're just suspended enough that it doesn't really matter. It's fun to see new looks all the time. But for me, I have a hard time getting over the fact that it's just so unrealistic, so I always try to reuse pieces like basic jeans, coats, and shoes. Selena had a closet of maybe 10 pairs of boots and we reused all of them, all the time. But I usually switch out the shirts. I generally don't repeat shirts for whatever reason."
For the viewer, it's sometimes like, 'Where are they shopping and getting these clothes from? How can they afford this?'
"One of the ideas we had for Selena's character was that she was the kind of woman who could go to a thrift shop and find amazing pieces, which really is a talent. Some people can walk in and find something really magical, then style it in a really cool way, which is hard for other people. So we had quite a big mix of thrifted pieces and new stuff."
What about for the other characters?
"Marty's character was interesting, too. It was a real mix because Oliver lost all of his money recently, so it wouldn't make sense for him to have all nice clothes. But, obviously, he used to have a good amount of money, so we did a balance in his wardrobe. We thrifted stuff secondhand that was also really nice — like Prada and Givenchy from the early 2000s. We thought, 'Okay, well, this is from when he was making money and could have afforded these clothes.' But anything that was more recent, we stuck more to Macy's or Old Navy. We had a mix of high-end to lower end."
Are there any hints in the costumes as to what's going to happen in the show? Any details that we might have missed that we should go back and look for?
"There isn't anything that's so, so connected to the mystery. I would say it's more about the emotional trajectory of each of the characters. At the beginning, you see Charles is always in the same sort of outfit — a sweater, a button-down, and a blazer or an overcoat. He always wears the same shoes and he always wears the same jeans. It's very repetitive. Then, as the season progresses, he starts to open up his color palette a teensy tiny bit and wear a couple of things that have more of a bold pattern. Each of them do that, where the costumes slightly change as the character is changing."
"With Mabel, we started out with her in these crazy bright, really fun coats. But then, toward of the end of the season, we got much more into classic silhouettes. The journey was that she was going from being who she was before and transitioning into the world that Charles and Oliver are in. We incorporated more traditional detective style, like plaids and the classic trench silhouettes."