Michelle Obama is coming to dinner! Obviously, TV’s best-dressed family would bring their sartorial A-game, thanks to nine-time Emmy nominee Michelle Cole – earning her fifth nomination for her work on the final season of the Kenya Barris-created sitcom.
While welcoming the 44th first lady (playing herself), the Johnsons also invited laughs – especially after doctor Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) and publicity manager Dre (Anthony Anderson) excluded children and occasion grandparents. “I love how they plot to figure out how to see her,” says Cole, who collaborated via top-secret zooms with Obama’s stylist Meredith Koop on her super-comfy JW Anderson sweater. “It’s a casual dinner for her, but everyone was over the top.”
Dre’s pumpkin-colored velvet tuxedo jacket by Etro, over a black turtleneck, signals his career success and the pay rise that comes with it. “He dressed for his wife and he does it for Michelle Obama,” Cole explains.
As the three sit down for dinner, Junior (Marcus Scribner), dressed in a graphic-patterned Dries Van Noten sweater, unsubtly attempts to take a photo with Obama. Then, college grad Zoey (Yara Shahidi) walks around the room in a too-chic lavender and python-print ensemble to do Alessandra Rich’s laundry under the guise of chore — only to inquire to offer samples of her fashion line reached to the ultimate influencers, Sasha and Malia. “She’s carrying the laundry basket with her golden boots,” Cole said with a laugh.
Dre’s parents, Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) and Pops (Laurence Fishburne), also dress for American royalty. Cole imagines Pop dusting off a tux “he’s always had”, while Ruby bows in a majestic fuchsia designer dress, adorned with sparkling rhinestone jewelry – and a tiara. “Where did they get the crown?” Cole asks, assuming Ruby would have repurposed Diane’s (Marsai Martin) youngest granddaughter’s costume jewelry. “Maybe Diane had some stuff in her hope box.”
For Cole, colorful fashion plays a vital role in portraying three generations of a prosperous black family living the American dream in Los Angeles. “That’s what we stand for,” she says. “This is who we are. This is how we dress.”
Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) and her Gen Z writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) take her refreshed stand-up number on tour – hit the road and the high seas. “Deborah Vance going on a cruise was like candy to me,” says Kathleen Felix-Hager, who earned her second Emmy nomination.
Expecting a gay cruise, Deborah makes her grand entrance in a Casablanca-themed pastel blouse and duster, with a distinctive sailing and racing print. Her custom-made wide-brimmed pink hat – with matching trim cut from the dress – completes the towering ensemble. “How else will Deborah Vance walk on a cruise ship?” She must look amazing. It must be like, ‘I’m here for all my people!’ says Félix-Hager. “And then she finds out that they’re actually not his people.
It’s because Deborah’s business manager has booked her on a lesbian cruise, and she needs to endear herself to an audience she’s always insulted. Making strides, Deborah confidently sports a bright orange floral print blouse with brash silver sequins on the forearms. “Deborah always wants to be the center of attention, even if it’s the breakfast buffet,” says Felix-Hager. “She still has some of her Vegas flair.”
Deborah brings her comedy number on board, taking the stage in her sparkling pantsuit. Felix-Hager custom-designed Deborah’s sparkly ensemble with “head-to-toe tiny purple and black sequins.” The soft, flowing fabric supported co-creator Lucia Aniello’s script and direction, with Deborah dancing awkwardly onstage (“Oh no, she’s doing Ellen,” a horrified Ava says) and revealing her bare shoulders that further put off viewers. participants offended by tone-deaf routine.
Deborah unceremoniously launched the cruise. “I knew they were going to end up in a canoe, and I wanted a color that would pop in the ocean,” Felix-Hager says of Deborah’s stunning red, pink and navy blue blouse by La DoubleJ, accessorized by a tactical orange life jacket and a vintage scarlet hat with delicate ruffles. “It’s so beautiful, classy and a bit ridiculous,” she adds with a laugh.
First-time nominee Dana Covarrubias fondly recalls her first tryout with Martin Short for the Upper West Side mystery series. As Oliver Putnam, the comedy legend showcases his character’s “showman-esque” style via a scripted line. “Really?! Can’t you see that coat?!” Oliver shouts as a driver nearly hits the former Broadway producer as he crosses at red.
Oliver’s statement outerwear was written as a shaggy “bergamasco dog-style coat,” says Covarrubias. But through collaborative discussions with Short (and fellow amateur detective and true-crime podcaster Mabel Mora’s now-famous marigold faux fur, played by Selena Gomez), Oliver’s coat evolved into the bespoke Haider Ackermann. in amethyst hues. “Marty is the comedian,” says Covarrubias. “He should be doing the joke, not necessarily the costume.”
Oliver’s purple and white polka dot Turnbull & Asser scarf also set the tone for his dramatic wardrobe full of early 2000s designer jackets, vests and ties reminiscent of his showbiz heyday producing products as Splash! Musical comedy and Newark! Newark! “We found him to be such a great theatrical look,” says Covarrubias. “Marty is so expressive and gestures a lot, and the scarf moves with him.”
Rounding out the detective trio, Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) sports a navy palette and short brim felt hat that expresses his professional peak as a ’90s crime drama star. Brazzos. Covarrubias was inspired by crime shows of that era to find a vintage leather trench coat for a bayou show comeback scene in a show. “We wanted to create a really strong silhouette, because we wanted to reference what Brazzos silhouette in the current timeline,” she says.
Only murders also makes for an entertaining easter egg hunt for fans to guess which improvisational riffs make the final cut. Covarrubias also found herself improvising. “Oliver always loves his dips. ‘Dips for dinner!’ she said. She imagined Oliver always ready to snatch and conceal jars of Greek delight, ensuring that his pants had a generous number of deep compartments.
For the reexamination of the societal treatment Pamela Anderson (Lily James) suffered after a homemade sex tape was stolen and released with her then-husband Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan), first-time contestant Kameron Lennox needed to strike “a very delicate balance” – because mid-’90s fashion is just inherently funny. “I didn’t want to make fun of them,” Lennox said. “They had their own unique style that inspired so many people back then, and even today.”
A historically accurate wardrobe has helped highlight the rapid rise of celebrity obsession, bolstered by tabloid paparazzi and drastic change in media technology. After the contents of the VHS tape are released onto the booming World Wide Web, Pam and Tommy attempt an incognito trip to the library to access the Internet in the most notable outfits of the mid-90s: Pam in a hoodie in pastel blue terrycloth, short track pants by Hard Tail and Christian Louboutin Ugg-style stilettos, and Tommy in monochrome black mid-calf swim shorts and a flat cap worn sideways. “It was a little nod to celebrities trying to hide [from the paparazzi]and it never worked,” says Lennox.
Tommy’s failure to acknowledge the impact of the scandal on his wife culminates in the premiere of Barbed wire, Pam’s first headlining film. “I wanted to show he didn’t understand,” says Lennox, who dressed Stan in a flashy suit by Fullerton, Calif.-based heritage designer El Pachuco Zoot Suits. “It’s actually a shiny cherry red upholstery fabric with recessed flames,” Lennox explains. She imagined Tommy again wearing a mesh tank top saved from the height of his hair fame and notes, “there are flames on the tip of his cowboy boots.”
The 90s wardrobe also underscores how unfunny the era’s cruel and misogynistic humor was – as shown in an interview with Jay Leno, during which Pam maintains her dignity. Lennox found a black Versace dress from Spring 1993 and customized the low-cut silhouette to fit James’ maternity prosthesis. “It’s a testament to her strength and personality that she’s always going to own who she is, no matter what people said about her or how they saw her, or how society would assume you should look like. [when pregnant]says Lennox. “She’s just true to herself.”
This story first appeared in a standalone July issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, Click here to subscribe.