For Hulu’s murder-mystery comedy Only Murders in the Building, costume designer Dana Covarrubias was gifted an arguably impossible task: Make an audience forget Selena Gomez is Selena Gomez. The pop icon, who had not appeared as a series regular on a television show since her time on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place almost a decade ago, would be playing Mabel, a young, vaguely unknowable woman with a biting wit and a penchant for true crime. She would, of course, be Gomez, but she couldn’t look like Gomez, lest viewers be pulled from the show’s universe.
Most importantly, Mabel would need to mesh well with her troupe of amateur criminologists, rounded out by two older white men: The affable Steve Martin (playing veteran actor Charles Haden-Savage) and kooky Martin Short (playing theater director Oliver Putman). “The main concern when looking at the costumes would be, ‘How do we bring Selena Gomez, this icon, into this world and have her physically standing next to Steve and Marty and not look super weird?’” Covarrubias says.
The solution might have seemed straightforward: Ease back on Gomez’s signature style, perhaps drape her in dull hues or pedestrian basics. Slap her in a baseball cap and a tote bag and call it good. But such an approach wouldn’t have been true to Mabel, either. The character shoulders a heavy burden, a sense of secrecy that screams for anyone approaching to watch out. That trauma motivates her search for victim Tim Kono’s killer throughout the season.
“Her whole concept was basically that her costumes were a type of armor,” Covarrubias says. “So she’s using these really bright colors in the same way as an animal with a brightly colored coat: ‘Beware. Danger. Leave me alone. Back off.’” Balancing these two competing motivations—settling Gomez in reality, while elevating Mabel’s own mien—gave the designer an intriguing challenge. She decided Mabel’s style would be immediately eye-catching, enough that it would draw a double-take on the streets of Manhattan, but not so dramatic that it’d invite further inquiry. This way, the character could be both intriguing and safely anonymous.
Covarrubias achieved this look with a parade of flashy colors imbued in soft textures: yellow faux fur, paint-splattered denim, rainbow knits, pink feathers, crimson vinyl, and white shearling. She frequently drew upon the color palate of The Hardy Boys books that Mabel grew up reading, keeping an eye out for bright blues, teals, reds and golds as she thrifted in her home borough of Brooklyn.
As a result, Gomez’s fashion is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the wacky Hulu series. To get a better idea of how each fit came together—and where one might find decent dupes—ELLE.com asked Covarrubias for a rundown of each ensemble. As new episodes drop in the coming weeks, we’ll update this post with more inspiration from the designer’s (and, of course, Mabel’s) closet.
For Gomez’s first appearance in episode 1, Covarrubias wanted to make a quick and powerful impression: “We wanted the first thought to be, Who is she?” The designer, who has previously worked on shows including Ramy and Master of None, dressed Gomez in the yellow faux fur jacket, matching sweater and plaid pants that immediately lured paparazzi while the actress was on set in December 2020.
Covarrubias chose the bold yellow as a symbolic nod to the Mexican heritage she shares with Gomez. “Marigolds are very important in Mexican iconography and culture,” she explains. “They can represent grief and resurrection, passion and creativity. So it just fit very perfectly for [Mabel’s] character, because she’s held back by this thing that happened in her past, and she’s also an artist. So we knew we wanted to use those color tones, the reds and the golds and yellows, for her character a lot.” The sweater and pants were both thrifted, while the coat is Michael Kors and the boots Kurt Geiger.
For a more relaxed look during Mabel’s downtime, Covarrubias selected a black camisole, sweatpants and a beige cardigan. It was essential that Gomez never looked too overdressed, especially when she was spending time alone in her apartment sketching portraits or researching Tim Kono.
“My background is mostly doing comedies,” Covarrubias says. “And I think why I have continued to work in that world is because the best thing to do in comedy is to not go too over the top with costumes. You want to keep it grounded in reality—because that can make the comedy really pop.”
For Gomez’s third look in the first episode, she donned a pair of vibrant coveralls, chunky Chelsea boots, and a shearling coat. The heavy shoes are a recurring staple in Mabel’s wardrobe, Covarrubias explains, as a way to accentuate her spiky exterior.
These subtle but important choices helped Gomez get into character every time she tried a new outfit. “In the very first [fitting], after one or two looks she tried on, [Gomez] was already like, ‘Oh yeah, I get it. I get who she is. I feel it,’” Covarrubias says. “It’s not a silhouette that you see her personally wearing all the time. It was able to push her into the character, I feel like.”
Out of Mabel’s extensive sweater collection, it’s this colorful confetti sweater that earned a spot as Covarrubias’s favorite. She found the piece while poking around Brooklyn for vintage clothes; she makes regular trips to Beacon’s Closet, a beloved NYC thrift shop, and also frequents luxury resale site TheRealReal.com for inexpensive costuming treasures (“It’s amazing for film because we’re on a tight budget.”)
Throughout the series, Mabel often wears thick wool while Martin and Short opt for silk, satin or cotton. “Her character is a knitter,” Covarrubias explains. “So we wanted to find some really wonderful chunky, loose knits that looked like she could have made them.”
Later in the episode, Mabel changes into a darker ensemble—a black turtleneck and taupe mini skirt combo—as she eases into investigative mode. It’s one of her more subdued looks throughout the show, which Covarrubias says was a counterintuitive choice to make.
“The thing that you really want to do with someone like Selena, because she has such amazing style herself, is to up the style, up up up up up,” she says. “Do it super fashionable. But that’s just not true to the script, and it’s not true to Mabel.
In a particularly important flashback scene during Mabel’s Hardy Boys days, she’s at a party, where she shimmers in a sequin dress and zebra-print coat—arguably Gomez’s most arresting look of the season so far. The coat was a gorgeous set piece, but it was also a practical choice: “It was really freezing outside when we were shooting,” Covarrubias says, laughing. “So we were also looking for something that would keep our actors really cozy and warm.”
When Mabel is out sleuthing with her podcast team, which includes Martin’s Charles and Short’s Oliver, it’s easy to forget she’s also a talented artist, currently in the process of remodeling the apartment she’s staying in. To point audiences back to this key personality trait, Covarrubias dressed Gomez in quintessential artist’s garb, including this paint-splattered denim look. Finding an exact replica will be tricky, but it’s easy enough to create your own with some fabric paints and a trusty pair of coveralls.
Although Covarrubias often attempted to separate Mabel’s style from Gomez’s own, there were certain staples from the pop superstar’s wardrobe that she couldn’t bear to part with, including Gomez’s favorite hoop earrings. “That actually is one of the things that I saw Selena doing in her personal style that I love on her. Every time I see her in a photo, and she has those big hoops on, I just love it,” she says.
Mabel wears hoops of all shapes in sizes throughout the show, most of them from jeweler Jennifer Fisher, but for this particular outfit she dons a pair of big gold tubes. For a slightly less expensive dupe, try the recommendations below.
This post will be updated as new episodes are released.
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