The calling card of “The Masked Singer” has always been its eye-catching costumes, which take center stage on each episode of the top-rated series, now its fourth season on Fox.
But this season’s over-the-top creations — Giraffe, Snow Owl, Baby Alien, Mushroom et al. — were designed with TV’s current climate in mind, says Marina Toybina, the show’s award-winning costume designer who’s been with “The Masked Singer” since its January 2019 premiere.
“Every season we try to do something different, but this season was special because of so many different variables and obstacles with every show in production,” says Toybina, alluding to the pandemic. “We really wanted this season to be colorful and fun and big and happy, to put smiles on the viewers’ faces.”
Mission accomplished. “The Masked Singer” remains one of TV’s top draws; its Oct. 14 episode averaged nearly 11 million viewers, who watched Mark Sanchez revealed as the singer beneath Baby Alien.
(Wednesday night’s episode, airing at 8 p.m., will be pushed to next week if there’s a Game 7 of the World Series.)
“We’re trying to step out of the box this season in the ways we’re building our masks and costumes,” says Toybina. “Baby Alien was the first time we ever did a puppet. We thought, ‘What can we do that’s so extravagant and captivating to watch?’
“The Snow Owl was our first dual costume,” she says. “We didn’t want it to be traditional — we wanted to expose two characters in there — and the two owls came into play, and from there it was incorporating more ornate details into the visuals. So we decided to put them in a Faberge egg, and from there the costume grew.”
Toybina says that she’s influenced by different elements in coming up with each season’s costumes.
“I try to push my own creative envelope in using resources from film, theater or the little things I’m inspired by,” she says. “Every time I think of a new character it’s important to come up with a story for that character. For the Giraffe [this season], I didn’t want it to be the typical giraffe. I wanted it to be soft and pastel and friendly; I’m highly interested in period costumes, so it has that idea of royal richness.
“It’s almost like my Marie Antoinette inspiration.”
Toybina says she’s aware of the costumes being created for the international versions of “The Masked Singer” (which originated in South Korea): “We always try to keep our designs unique … the most random thoughts sometimes come into my head. Sometimes we get to see who’s a season ahead of us and what they’re experimenting with — but I try to stay minimal as far as resourcing other ideas.”
“Every single costume has never been a repeat from the way it’s been sewn and built and we’ve used so many beautiful techniques,” she says. “I would say, on the technical side, Lady Bug [from Season 2] was one of my favorites. I was really into the couture vibe in its construction. And the Swan [Season 3], which was more of a fashion approach from the costuming side — and White Tiger [Season 3] and Baby Alien.”
Each costume needs weekly maintenance, depending on what celebrity is underneath, she says.
“It varies. There’s a lot of labor from the initial fitting to the details and tailoring and during that process we make sure each costume is durable. There are some performances that are heavy, where maintenance comes in — we make sure the beading stays on or the masks are intact. If we know it’s a [more intense] performer we choose a fabric and details to avoid crazy wear and tear or a malfunction — and we’ve had neither, knock on wood.”
And, Toybina says, work on the next season’s costumes starts immediately after the current season ends.
“Once we wrap the season we go right into the artwork for the next season,” she says. “Each build takes from two to six weeks. Most people think it takes us six months to build each costume — I’d be lucky if we had two-and-a-half months!”
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