Based on most reporting coming out of Northern California these days, anyone who works with computers spends most of their time decked out in Allbirds and drab Loro Piana knits. That’s not the case in A Murder at the End of the World, Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s new miniseries about a young hacker and underground sleuth (Emma Corrin) solving a string of mysterious deaths at a billionaire’s top-secret retreat. Plenty of the stylish attendees at Murder’s summit of geniuses have techie backgrounds, but the most compelling outfits are worn by the duo at the show’s center: protagonist Darby and her older foil Lee Anderson (Marling), an ex-coder married to the retreat’s Muskian host.
Costume designer Megan Gray curated a handful of muses to build Darby and Lee’s wardrobes — Angelina Jolie’s rash-guard-as-top in Hackers for the former; Patti Smith and late-’70s Vivienne Westwood for the latter; and, of course, Grimes for both. But more than anything, she wanted the women’s wardrobes to feel totally original. Individual photographic references weren’t the only things on her vision board: She also pinned an old John Waters interview where the filmmaker laments that there’s no “hacktivist” style to take up the mantle of beatniks, hippies, and punks — rebels of yore who each had distinct sartorial tastes. With Murder, Gray set out to create a new language of anti-Establishment dressing.
Some elements came from the beauty department: artfully haphazard tattoos, trendy bangs, Darby’s industrial-pink hair. Gray played off each character’s ink — Darby’s big chest tattoo is supposed to be increasingly visible as the first and second episodes progress — and used Darby’s hair color to influence what she wears in the sun-soaked flashback scenes. She also ran with the idea that these characters would be acutely aware of the impact buying new clothes would have on their carbon footprint, sourcing a vast array of vintage and repurposed pieces.
The main directive for Darby came from Marling and Batmanglij, who wanted her to feel “red.” (Anyone who’s seen the duo’s previous work will not be surprised to learn they operate more from a place of gut feeling than logic when building their characters’ looks.) Gray built Darby’s opening outfit with their guidance, which puts our protagonist in a monochrome red sweatshirt and basketball shorts. “It was hard for me at first to get around the idea of a hoodie,” Gray says — the schlubby coder cliché felt almost too spot on — but the goal was more to evoke the innocence and youth of Little Red Riding Hood. “We tried to utilize red as a color of power,” Gray says, “rather than seduction or love or death.” The hue is woven into Darby’s later looks, too, though not always in the traditional sense: There are asymmetrical red slices through the armorlike shoulders of one black sheer shirt, and Gray cites the splattered blood on her T-shirt as another instance.
The other challenge for Darby was deliberately upping the awkward factor. “We didn’t want Darby to be outright fashionable,” Gray says — not an easy task with Corrin, who has a habit of making “anything look cool.” Gray’s team played with making their hems too short or too long, adding ankle socks or nerdy-looking sneakers so that Darby never appeared to be “influenced by fashion — she’s influencing fashion herself.” The character’s youth also played a major part in building her wardrobe — a lot of her taste was likely honed online on aesthetic breeding grounds like Tumblr and Instagram.
In many ways, those influences are what set Darby apart from Lee, who’s at least a decade older. The main goal with Lee’s wardrobe, Gray says, was to suggest she’s playing the part of a dutiful Silicon Valley mogul’s wife while holding onto a piece of her rebellious past. “There’s a part of Lee’s character that wouldn’t push fully against having access,” Gray says, “but she uses that access in her own way.” She put Marling in the same boots and jewelry throughout the whole show and sourced all of Lee’s outfits secondhand, the idea being that she’d want to shell out in an ethical way. One particularly telling Paco Rabanne cocktail dress she wears early on (pictured above) is made of large geometric sequins held together with metal rings, like punk high-fashion chain mail.
In scenes where she’s away from her husband, though, Lee wears a lot of obscure graphic tees that Gray imagined would have been from her hacking days. “There’s this synergy between Darby and Lee,” Gray says, and those tops highlight their “unspoken bond,” even if they’re separated by age and financial status. In one scene where they’re chatting alone, both women are wearing edgy, artistic-looking T-shirts.
The piece Gray gets asked about most, though, is a stunning pair of vintage Issey Miyake trousers Lee wears early on in the season. They’re entirely unremarkable for the first few shots, but when Lee moves in a specific way while standing in front of a window, red plaid pleats momentarily spill out the side of the legs. “So many people on the crew asked where those pants came from,” Gray says, “and for the life of me I can’t find another pair. We will never find them again.” Sounds like a mystery for season two.