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Marina Toybina: The Creative Genius Behind the Extraordinary Ensembles in ‘The Masked Singer’

Rewind back to two and a half years ago. I was sitting on the couch with my mom and my sister on a typical Wednesday evening, about to watch a new show premiering that night. We’d never been huge fans of reality TVーhowever, this was going to be a major exception. The promos, after all, showcased a plethora of colorful, mystical and bizarre costumed people singing. Better yet? The singers behind the masks were actually celebrities! I’ll admit that while, at first, The Masked Singer might seem like some eccentric fever dream (the singing/dancing numbers can be quite peculiar), it’s truly worth it; if only to play the “guessing the celebrity behind the mask” game with your friends and family, or to admire the mesmerizing and impossibly intricate costumes that each participant dons. Fast forward to the current and fifth season, and the show is still surprising us with even more twists (such as the “wild card” participants and the double or triple acts), totally unexpected celebrity reveals, and outstanding outfits every Wednesday night. 

As a fashion enthusiast, I’ll admit the costume department was what really made me fall in love with the series. Throughout the seasons, I’ve noticed a consistency in both the costumes’ quality and the character variety (except for the Monsterーthere’s been like four iterations of this one, although each version comes with a different twist and an equally unique celeb). On another note, each and every one of the characters has its unique vibe and stylistic feel to it, which made me think that maybe a team of designers were in charge of bringing these personas to life (how could a Thierry Mugler-inspired lion or a pageboy-dressed T-Rex be created by the same person?) I couldn’t help but marvel at the process behind the making of each and every outfit. So, I naturally had to Google the mastermind behind the designs of all these wacky, sometimes odd, but mostly beautiful creations. Much to my surprise, this fashion maven is none other than celebrity fashion designer Marina Toybina.

The Masked Singer/YouTube

Born in Moscow, Russia in 1981, this FIDM (formally known as the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) alum was bound for success soon after she released her own fashion line (during her time at university) alongside a close friend and fellow designer, Ashley Hirota. Known as Glaza, their brand garnered the attention of a set of well-known customers early on such as Fergie and Mary J. Blige. Because Toybina was so committed to her hustle and such a hard worker, her commitment to her job brought about some economic hardships. Nevertheless, her passion for fashion served as fuel to keep her strong and determined to enter the industry’s high ranks. 

Three years after the release of Glaza, Marina became the sole proprietor of the brand and became even more famous after designing outfits for some particularly memorable music videos and tour looks for A-list artists such as Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Ariana Grande. Her exposure to musical media led her to work as costume designer for several other well known reality TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance and The X Factor, both of which have gotten her Emmy Awards. She has also achieved something many designers can only dream of doing: dressing up a celebrity and her dance crew for a Superbowl Halftime Show (recall the 2015 edition with Katy Perry’s memeable shark backup dancers). Soon enough, in early 2018, Marina got a call from a FOX executive producer who briefed her on the concept of The Masked Singer and who suggested she watch the Korean version of the show (the first iteration of the show in history, known in its English traduction as “King of Masked Singer”) and the rest, as they say, is history.

Her commitment to her work as designer for The Masked Singer is no joke. According to Vanity Fair, Marina has approximately three weeks prior to each season to design at least 20 of the upcoming characters’ getups (including, of course, some additional ones that may be used as plan Bs or as headliners in subsequent seasons.) After they’re all conceptualized, each costume takes approximately 1 month of nonstop work to fabricate, depending on the craftsmanship and detailing required for each character.

One of the cool parts of working as a costume designer for one of TV’s most random shows is that Marina is one of the only individuals on the face of the Earth to communicate with the masked celebs before and during production. As part of this process, she gets to do regular costume fittings to make sure every garment fits the wearer ideally. She also gets to speak beforehand with the “singers” (who so happen to also be actors, dancers, influencers, or athletes) about which costume they envision themselves wearing so they get to pick and choose the character that best represents them. On some occasions, she has even had to scrap existing characters and create completely new ensembles to better fit the celebs’ preferences!

The Masked Singer/YouTube

One of the biggest challenges she faces as head designer for this show, according to her interview for Awards Daily, is creating costumes that allow for sufficient mobility and for the participants’ voices to be heard over the extremely over-the-top masks. The key to success lies in the constant testing of the masks with both vocal coaches and sound engineers during the fabrication process. In this way, the masks are created as effectively as possible, taking into account the feedback of professionals that help determine how well the voices of the participants will sound through the masks.

Creating the costumes for The Masked Singer has proven to be both a learning experience and a dream come true for Marina Toybina. 

“It’s great to see that we’re having wardrobe speak its story, and the costumes kind of make these characters come to life,” she told Vanity Fair. “Kind of” is clearly an understatement, when we consider that each and every one of the characters has a very personal story behind themーexpressed through the myriad of clues that are provided to the audience before each contestants’ performances. Anybody who has fallen in love with the show’s characters can attest to the special uniqueness behind every costume. After all, no two are the same.  

“The more I talk about it, it’s just so surreal to me. [...] I hope that this opens up more doors for costume design to be in a forum like this, and not just theatrics or movies, or big tours—that there’s room now, and there’s this little niche for something so great to be on television,” Toybina added. Thanks to her dedication and commitment, this show has won an Emmy Award, a cult following, and its own primetime slot on FOX. So, yeah, it’s fair to say that the greatness of the show is due, in part, to her own effort.

However “niche” The Masked Singer may seem, it really is a very enjoyable show for all audiences. Trust me, once you start, you’re bound to grip the edges of your seat in anticipation of the next celeb unmasking. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll do the same every time a new costume is revealed. If you are already a fan of the show, let us know who your favorite character is! Just remember not to spoil the person behind the mask!

Andrea Capllonch is a fourth-year Marketing Major who loves editing literary and journalistic content, studying emerging trends in fashion, books and music, playing the violin and discovering new bands and musical artists. She aspires to someday break into the literary world as an editor for a publishing house or an online publication (while freelance-writing). When she isn't busy editing or working at the local indie bookstore, you'll most likely find her cuddling her two cats, Bobby and Ziggy.
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