ACE Award Winner Dana Covarrubias

Style Influencer
Dana Covarrubias: Curating an On-Screen Vision

By Sophia Strawser

Dana Covarrubias’s story as a costume designer begins far before her current, Emmy-nominated work on “Only Murders in the Building.” It begins before her 17 episodes of “Ramy” and even before earning her degree in performance. For Covarrubias it all started at the age of four when her father would entrust his morning decision to his daughter. “What tie should I wear with this suit and this shirt?” he would ask. Little did either of them know at the time that they were focusing the eye of a future costume designer — one who would go on to work for shows starring some of the world’s most celebrated stars, and who would also create a career-establishing cache of trendsetting looks.

Covarrubias clearly remembers the moment she knew she was destined to be a costume designer.“I went to school for theater and then transitioned to costume design. My first internship was working for a sketch comedy show and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “On the very first day, I walked in and the costume department was building this big bear mascot and I was so here for it.”


Because she studied performance, she approaches her work from the perspective of someone who uses clothing and accessories to help establish a character. “My foundation is in character building; not rooted in fashion design. The fashion side of it all came to be later.” She pulls a great deal of information from scripts, where she dives into figuring out what motivates the characters and how that might play a part in how those characters dress. “After initial meetings with the director and show-runner, I start pulling images from art books, magazines, and even people on the street,” she added. “Some of the best inspiration and realistic examples I’ve found have been from people-watching in NYC. The unique stuff comes from real life. No matter how wild you go, you always want to make sure the costumes are grounded in reality.”

These images lead to mood boards which lead to shopping, which all comes to a head during fittings. “The accessories help you hone in on the character. A hat or a scarf or a piece of jewelry can end up being the most characterful pieces,” Covarrubias said. “On Only Murders in the Building, we’ve used accessories as part of the plot line. Season three we had a handkerchief which was integral to the story.”

Driving the plot isn’t the only power clothing and accessories have had in “Only Murders in the Building.” They have also become signature staples for characters Charles and Oliver. “Charles, played by Steve Martin, has this hat that he wears when he’s in detective mode. He’s a really introverted character so it’s something he can put on to become this stronger person. He’s also an actor so he likes to have an accessory that allows him to become the character,” explained Covarrubias. Encouraged to share which accessory from the show has been her favorite, she responded, “Oliver’s scarves. He wore this scarf briefly in the first funeral scene in season three. It was one of those moments where the costume god’s smiled upon me. I found it by fate. I was in a random thrift shop upstate and saw it. It had the NYC skyline on it and I was like oh my god, this is perfect. Playing with his scarves is one of my favorite parts of the show. It adds such great color and pattern to his looks. For Selena’s character, it really did start with an accessory — her Jennifer Fisher hoops. And then we built from there.”

The show does many things well, as confirmed by the cast and crew’s expansive list of Emmy nominations, and Covarrubias’s work balancing the iconic trio of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez is like a master class in costume design. Getting the job done and keeping track of every last detail is no small feat. “Everything is logged. I make a costume board for every character during the fitting process and then create a PDF that goes scene-by-scene so I can see everything together before we even shoot. And then I know if the trio is balanced. You need to make sure they make sense together. I love when they are all in their pjs or all dressed up. I get to go through and decide how each of them would do this while still balancing them together.”

Fans typically get a glimpse into a season’s look as soon as paparazzi find — and stake out — the show’s filming locations. Before the episodes even air, there are articles, posts, and conversations all centered around what the cast is wearing. Covarrubias maintains she isn’t swayed by the hoopla, but she did tell us that she noticed the impact Selena’s outfits were having pretty early on. “After season one premiered, the first Halloween everyone was dressed like her and I thought that was such an honor. It meant that fans really enjoyed the looks.”



Shopping for the show is, in many ways, a full-time job with built-in overtime. And the turnaround time for episodes can be a whirlwind. “We source a lot of scarves from The Real Real. We love Etro scarves for Oliver as well. I’ll thrift, we’ll go to Saks, Bloomingdale’s, or shop online. In season one you’re figuring out what makes sense for the character and now I just know what brands I’m going to want. Plus, we often have about two weeks, if that, to shop so it needs to be a quick process.”

When asked about advice for up-and-coming costume designers, Covarrubias was thoughtful. “The lesson I’ve learned over and over again is you don’t want to be swayed too much by anything around you. You really want to be listening to your gut because that’s what needs to guide you. You want to make sure your voice is in there,” she said. “If something is nagging you that something doesn’t look right, you want to make sure you listen to that voice inside of you. Because it will nag you forever.”

And while this style influencer refused to reveal any spoilers, she did tell us to expect some interesting surprises during the upcoming season of “Only Murders in the Building.” According to Covarrubias, “Lots of secret stuff is happening. It’s a really special season. I love our show so much and have been a fan since the very beginning, but there’s something about the writing this season that’s just so so good.”