Decoding Selena Gomez's Coats and More Only Murders in the Building Style Secrets

Emmy-nominated costume designer Dana Covarrubias broke down the meaningful choices that go into dressing Only Murders in the Building stars Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short.

By Natalie Finn Aug 10, 2022 2:07 PMTags
Watch: Only Murders in the Building: EVERYTHING You Need to Know!

In case you were wondering, yes, Selena Gomez looks that chic on Only Murders in the Building on purpose.

That was pretty much the idea from day one.

"We want people to see her and immediately think, This girl is cool,'" costume designer Dana Covarrubias told E! News, recalling the specific yet open-to-interpretation description provided by showrunner John Hoffman for the character of Mabel Mora. "This cool comes from her inner power and confidence. and she's one of those women that can walk into any thrift store and be like, 'I'm gonna pick that and that, I'm gonna take these, and put this on'—and it's just going to be amazing."

Of course, Mabel—artist, amateur detective, reluctant true crime podcaster and now a murder suspect—has a lot of layers, figuratively and sartorially. So, using "cool" as a jumping-off point, Covarrubias has been complementing her story arc with clothing, everything from her enviable collection of coats and her signature color to her lug-soled footwear providing a piece of the Mabel puzzle.

Charles' Many Roles, According to Only Murders in the Building

But the fashion clues aren't reserved solely for Only Murders' leading lady. The outfits worn by Steve Martin as fading TV star Charles-Haden Savage and Martin Short as boisterous theater director Oliver Putnam are just as painstakingly curated.

Covarrubias, an Emmy nominee for Outstanding Contemporary Costumes, broke down the secrets behind their style for E! News...

Who's That Girl?

Our introduction to Mabel (Selena Gomez) in the series premiere of Only Murders in the Building spoke volumes from a style perspective.

For starters, the script noted that she should be wearing sunglasses and Beats headphones—and that was it.

Those accessories indicated someone "trying to keep the world out," costume designer Dana Covarrubias explained to E! News. "Part of her wants to stand out, part of her wants to hide, so all of those ideas were floating around in my head."

New York being one of the best places in the world to get inspired just by walking down the street and paying attention to what people are wearing, she notes, the idea of putting an outfit together"that shouldn't make sense, but it does," was key to her approach to Mabel's look.

"I wanted it to be grounded in this vintage plaid pant, then we wanted to pump it up with something punk-rock and artsy, and that's where the marigold-colored faux fur came in," Covarrubias said. "We had two or three racks full of different faux furs, and that one was just the winner."

New York State of Mind

The setting—particularly the Upper West Side of Manhattan (with the Arconia played by the real-life Belnord)—played an essential role in how the entire show was styled.

"New York is really its very own thing," Covarrubias, who like Gomez originally hails from Texas but is going on 20 years in NYC, explained. "I immediately think of cozy sweaters, a lot of coats, I think of sophistication—especially on the Upper West Side. I think of Broadway and theater and museums, great education and this academia vibe." '

Then, as often reflected in Mabel, "you get this downtown influence," she continued, "which is art and underground punk rock and avant-garde. It's a really interesting blend of cultures, so I tried to replicate and uplift it. Our show has always been very aspirational and we want people to look at it and say, 'I love New York, I want to be in New York.'"

Braving the Elements

Mabel has a closetful of coats, which she uses to protect herself from more than just wind chill.

In the first season especially, "that was like her armor," the designer said. "She's hiding that something bad has happened in her past and you don't know what it is yet."

Over the Top

But Mabel isn't the only one speaking volumes through outerwear.

"Really?! Do you not see this coat?" Oliver, played by Martin Short, shouts at a driver who stops just short of hitting him in a crosswalk, gesturing to his purple overcoat.

And after reading that line, Covarrubias was off to the races.

"The coats play such an integral role to each person's character development—in my mind at least," Covarrubias said with a laugh. "To me it was like a tool that each of our main three characters were able to use to physically show who they are on the inside."

Cash-strapped theater director Oliver—responsible for classics such as the Macbeth adaptation "Macbeats" starring Vanilla Ice—has a penchant for overcoats and bright scarves. "I always thought of the scarf as being like a theater curtain," the designer explained, "and his body is the scene and it's moving and flowing with him." But they stop short of making the scarves clownish or too flamboyantly patterned. "We don't want it to come off as too comical," Covarrubias said. "We want it to look grounded from every angle."

And, she added, the long coats complement his 5-foot-8 frame. "You might think it would look strange on his body," she said, "but it just adds a theatricality to his already great physicality."

Zipped Up

Unlike Oliver, Charles (Steve Martin) doesn't court the spotlight, content enough to remember his glory days as the star of cop show Brazzos. So his more muted coats serve as his "woobie," Covarrubias noted, "like a baby blanket, something that makes you feel comfortable. We tried to find coats that had similar silhouettes as the one he wore as Brazzos in the '90s. Like Mabel, he's not really showing people who he is, he's still putting on this character that allows him to deal with life."

And yes, the stash of porkpie hats is plentiful as well.

Taking the Investigation in a Different Direction

Speaking of Brazzos, Covarrubias said that as soon as she got the gist of the character, seen in flashback in season one, "I just pictured this lived-in, brown leather trench-style coat."

She only had a million coats to choose from. "We looked all over, probably went to 10 or 15 different thrift stores in New York City," she recalled, "and we weren't finding exactly what we wanted here. So we looked at all the costume rental houses in L.A., sourced a bunch there, had them shipped to New York and then we probably had two racks of options. Then we just found the one that looked the best on Steve."

Got You Covered

Among the light-, medium- and heavy-weight coats that so many New Yorkers have on hand for the many different types of weather they might face, "there's humid-wet, cold-dry, cold-wet," Covarrubias ticked off. Then there's also the parka, which Mabel donned (faux-fur-trimmed, of course) for her fact-finding trip to Coney Island in season two.

Color Coordinated

Though they started off as circumstantial partners in crime-solving, the bond between Mabel, Charles and Oliver has obviously strengthened—and their increased reliance on each other has been subtly reflected in their wardrobes.

"We have them wearing each other's color palettes to symbolize that they're letting go of themselves a little bit and becoming more of a unit," Covarrubias explained. "One of our biggest themes has always been connection in the modern age. These three random people who live in a building together, who shouldn't have met, but they met and became [friends]. So in season two we have Mabel wearing Charles' blues, and we have Charles wearing Oliver's purples, and we have Oliver wearing Mabel's marigolds."

Dreamed Into Existence

"We source all over—online, thrift stores, we go to Bloomingdales—we go everywhere, really," Covarrubias said of acquiring the thousands of items that go into dressing the sprawling cast from head to toe.

Even sourcing to the ends of the earth, though, doesn't always result in a dream garment. For Mabel's subconscious to shine as she's putting the puzzle pieces of her memory together, Covarrubias envisioned a marigold jumpsuit—simple but subtly surreal for the scene technically taking place in her mind.

But they couldn't find the right piece in that exact color, so they ended up having white jumpsuits hand-dyed in Mabel's signature shade.

Most Suitable

For season two, Covarrubias has been leaning into more glen plaids and men's suit-reminiscent patterns for Mabel, mixed with soft sweaters. "She's so stunning," Covarrubias said of Gomez, "I always want to put her in a beautiful color and a simple sweater. Then we're looking for a kick-ass boot, with a lug sole, something that has patent leather or other texture, to make it punk rock—and everything else is sort of preppy or Nancy Drew-ish."

Going With the Flow

In season two, Mabel started to explore romance with artist Alice, played by Cara Delevingne, and that meant stripping away some of her sartorial armor while not fully letting go of her walled, don't-mess-with-me side. Inspired by the elegantly dressed stars of Alfred Hitchcock movies, many of them styled by eight-time Oscar-winner Edith Head, Covarrubias picked out some colorful shirt dresses for Mabel to bridge that gap—a bit retro, softer but still structured.

"There's the flowing quality of the skirt," Covarrubias said, "but with a boot tampering down the femininity, or a strong collar or blazer. I just think that's more interesting and seems right for her character."

Comfy Cozy

As enviable as her street style is, Mabel's also an artist and a bit of a loner, so her fashion had to reflect her homebody side. "I've always played with an element of softness with her because she has this quiet, creative spirit," Covarrubias said. "She likes to sit on her couch and knit, so that's reflected in her cozy sweaters and more warm, soft textures that we use on her."

Ear Candy

"We wear them in different sizes and styles, but there's always an earring," including a variety of Jennifer Fisher hoops, Covarrubias said. And, ahead of season two, Gomez got more ear piercings and wore her own studs on set.

Close to Her Heart

Mabel is also never without two gold chain necklaces from Rellery, one with a marigold design as a nod to her Mexican heritage, and another with a little "M" on it.

Blood Work

Blood has played a key supporting role in season two, and has prominently starred on the front of Mabel's cream-colored turtleneck in all the flashbacks harkening back to Bunny Folger's murder.

"We have so many white turtlenecks, all different bloody levels," Covarrubias said of getting the stains just right from scene to scene, starting with "Bloody Mabel" being found next to Bunny's body holding a knitting needle. They hired what's known as an ager-dyer, she explained, "and then they basically do blood tests where they do all different colors and sizes of stains."

And not knowing who-done-it is frustrating for more than just the audience. "We don't always fully know the mystery—like I didn't know, when we were establishing that look with Mabel," she said, "who the killer was or what the wound is, so we have to work backward from the stain."

And, of course, "you want it to look real but you want it to read on camera—and it's also Disney, you don't want it to look too real," Covarrubias continued. "So, lots of blood! On our wardrobe truck we have crates that are just blood supplies—and all different ways of squirting the blood onto the clothes. 'Is it a drip? Is it a spray?'"

Blank Canvas

And Mabel's snowy sweater was certainly a deliberate choice. They loved the plaid skirt and "we just thought a cream, stone-colored turtleneck would look great with it," Covarrubias said. "And would show the blood really well."

Only Murders in the Building is streaming on Hulu

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