Jazz Tangcay talks to costumer Marina Toybina about crafting the costumes for Fox’s The Masked Singer.
Costuming Fox’s The Masked Singer was a dream for designer Marina Toybina. Based on a Korean show, The Masked Singer is not your average singing competition show. Instead, singers are hidden behind extravagant costumes and masks as the panel and viewers at home try to guess the identity of the masked singer.
Toybina’s costumes are elegant and dazzling and grand. They’re the costumes we see during a big Broadway spectacle. I caught up with Toybina to learn about the joy of creating the costumes and how her love for film inspired her creativity.
This is a costume designer’s dream. What was your first reaction when you heard the pitch?
I was truly excited and honored. It’s not an everyday approach in being a costume designer and being able to costume a show in this magical way. When I got to see what the show was about based on this original series in Korea, it gave me so much liberty to figure out how to do something for our US audience and to do something different. I used the fashion platform and truly used the costume designing aspect of it. I used inspiration from film and everything else that most audiences can relate to. Then, I just brought them to life.
The costumes belong in a Broadway production. On TV, the detail really comes across. Did they say that you had to create a lion, a bee and a rabbit?
No. The beauty of season one was about exploring how we could do the show. I had the liberty to create these from the ground up. I had my own liberty to do my own artwork and create my own vision for the show. With the producers collaborating, we were then able to lock down the 12 characters we really liked. From there, the hard process began. That’s when the excitement turned into long hours. We had to figure out how to create something that went above and beyond creating a typical mask. We fabricated a 360 mask, so to me, the show becomes a mask head to toe. You’re becoming these characters that aren’t your everyday costumes. A lot of integrity went into even the construction part of it, from fabricating the masks, trial and error with different fabrics and really being so selective and clever about which fabrics I choose to execute these costumes. A sketch can be anything. It’s magical and everything on paper, but then to truly work backward and try to see something that’s already done by me and to bring it alive with my team, was probably the most beautiful challenge. We also set the bar high enough for us to build the costumes with such dedication.
You talk about films that inspired you. I see the bunny costume and see Donnie Darko. The Lion is a little bit reminiscent of The Lion King on stage mixed with something grandeur.
I am personally so much inspired by film and stage and these big shows. As a child, my mom took me to all the big theaters. I grew up in Moscow and every weekend; I was exposed to fairytales and movies and since childhood, this fantasy world embodied me. My career started in fashion design and I married the two by going into costume design by using a lot of elements that I learned from a structural point of ready to wear and couture. Having all those elements put into one pot to create this show was about reaching into that imagination of mine. I asked what movies did I like? What inspired me? What could I bring to life that inspired other people? Also, to be on board with the demographics watching the show. I had to be as diverse as possible. The lion to me was a balance between my love for mythology and my love for Egyptian gods, mixed with the playful side of Narnia. Everything was this interesting balance between a fabrication approach coming from inspirations of McQueen and Mugler. We mixed that with using the imagination of a child to create this frenzied yet powerful character. When a female went into a costume, right away, it was my Egyptian Narnia, Joan of Arc.
For the rabbit, one of my favorite films is Donnie Darko. I wanted to do something that is the opposite of what most people would think. It’s so easy when you think of a bunny as Easter, friendly, or colorful and approachable. I wanted to do something that was off-field. I wanted something interesting like that twitch and I wanted something mysterious. Joey brought that interesting twitch to life when he was in that costume. When you hear the word rabbit, you’d think something white and fluffy was about to come on stage. Instead, it was this strait-jacket kind of design and all clean with stylized cutlines, but at the same time, enough of a character to give him a personality. It had a mysterious tone to it.
Going to the peacock, I wanted to do something that was about what the bird itself represented. It had a massive tail. Right away, it was a showman character. I wasn’t going to do it as a female. I thought of it as something with rich fabrics, and I had Elvis on my mind. Who is the originator of stage shows in Vegas? It was so perfect for who went into that costume because it was this perfect match between being able to bring it to life and at the same time for us to fabricate it where it comes to life without anyone even being in it.
You talk about putting people into the costumes. How did you design them for movement and breathing?
From the beginning and sourcing the material, we were very careful about what we were going to use that could have movement on stage. Of course, some were more uncomfortable than others because of the nature of the design and to keep the authenticity of whatever creatures we were making. Every single time, we got lucky to do a fitting; we kept trying on these samples we were creating, we were always trying to stay aware of the functionality.
The masks were the most challenging part because it’s not something you design every day. The most support I was being able to do the fitting and hear the notes and to see how much we could cut into the mask so that the person inside could see and breathe and at the same time, not lose the actual mask. With the actual costume, it was a little easier, we could manipulate fabric in such a way we could give the versatility of comfort and movement, but with a mask it was so strategic. It was probably one of the hardest parts because we had to get right straight away. From there, once the mask is finished, there’s not much we could do, so every step of the way was so carefully and strategically executed.
I just loved how detailed they were and you could really see the work that had gone into them.
I think there were really no rules for us to go off of. It really was about what could we do to mix the idea of entertainment but also bring back the artistry of costume design and really showcases something on TV that inspires. When I look back at the movies that I love or the productions and shows I’ve seen, it’s being able to fall into that world and seeing what I can do for that quick turnaround to get people stimulated again and to be able to talk about the construction of costume design and look at the steps that it takes. It’s interesting to me because a lot of people think that we’ve had lots of months of prep, but in reality, we only had two months from start to finish. It takes about three weeks to build a mask, and when you think about it, we’re building twelve costumes at the same time, we’re not sleeping.
How many doubles of the costumes did you have?
Everything was a one-off. Very careful sewing had to go into it. It’s hard because some of the cast were not based locally. We’d pray everything went well in the fitting. It really is and was this idea of this live stage, reality TV with a quick turnaround. We had to work really fast, and that’s where the textures and the costumes were all key.
I’m so emotionally attached to these costumes when they’re finished. I think each one of them sparked the creativity that even challenged me as a designer. It was more what would I do to truly implicate details and these intricate finishing touches to each costume to make it look so unique and so different from the other. To me, they’re all favorites because I know the challenges and the complications and the beautiful results that came out of them.
Artistically, I was really drawn to the lion and the peacock because there’s such a broad scale of difference between the costumes. Unicorn was another one. That corset we draped by hand and that took about five days and three different sewers on it to perfect the pattern. Everything was done by hand. It was the couture way of sewing and we went back to the old days of fabricating some of these costumes. There was a lot of pride that went into the work, so it’s hard for me to choose.