The Masked Singer revealed this week that its winner was T-Pain. But it didn’t resolve most of our burning questions around the show, all of which had to do with the costumes. Aside from the obvious one — “Why?” — there’s the issue of how heavy they were, and how they got so intricate, and how much they cost, and how on Earth the celebrities breathed in there.
The answers reside with Marina Toybina, a costume designer with over 20 years of experience. Previously, her most famous creation was Left Shark for Katy Perry’s Superbowl performance (and all the other costumes besides Left Shark). Below, Toybina explains all.
When you were conceptualizing the costumes, did you know they’d be super elaborate?
We had a little bit of a platform from the Korean version, so for us it was a matter of what we could create that brings something new to television — figuring out the best way to focus on the artistry of costume design and make these characters over-the-top elaborate. I got the freedom from the network to do my own thing and push it as far as we could.
The costumes are mind-blowing. Do you have a favorite?
Each costume became my baby. I love the Monster, I think it’s one of everyone’s favorites. It’s very unique and built in such a way that I think really brings the childhood experience to life. The costume that was the most intricate for us was the Lion. We had to hand-create the mold for it, then coat it in gold, then put all the work into making a beautiful mask. It was inspired by Joan of Arc and a lot of influences from fashion shows and runway.
How long did the lion take to build?
Just to give you context, it took probably five to seven days for each mask. Overall I think it took about two and a half months just to complete the lion, while everything else was being built.
How heavy was each mask?
They vary. The lion is probably the heaviest one. We considered the weight and the texture on the mask. The most important thing is that the performers were able to breathe and see to perform. The majority of the masks were built with almost a helmet shape on the inside, so it holds the mask onto the head. But the circumference is very lightweight.
Could they practice in the costumes before performing to get used to the weight?
With all these shows, you just have a few days to turn everything around. We had one initial fitting to make sure the proportions and the tailoring were done correctly. The main fitting was for the mask, just because it’s the first time that they’re experiencing something like this. From there we had a few more fittings to make sure the costume was complete. As the show was going on, I was tweaking a few things, making sure the fit was proper, doing adjustments.
So on a day of filming, how long is the talent in a costume?
Everything was made to be easily removed, so if there was a waiting period, we didn’t have them wait in the masks or in the heavy gear. They weren’t suffering and sitting in these costumes all day long. I made sure the inside was breathable and lined with any materials that were compression based. Every seaming was done based on movement.
I read somewhere the Monster has fans in it. True?
Yes! The majority of the costumes are pretty great in terms of breathability and durability. There’s a few like the Monster and the Pineapple, where your whole body is going into it, so they needed vents or fans to blow air. The fans actually create a better environment for them to sing in because they’re not breathing in their own oxygen.
The costumes have gotten a lot of press. What do you find interesting about them that hasn’t been talked about?
For me personally, it’s crazy to see how much people love seeing over-the-top costuming on television. We worked around the clock to get this done and it’s important that people know that. Costume design of this caliber is a dying art.
One more thing — if some Halloween enthusiast wanted to buy a costume of this caliber, do you have an idea of how much it would cost?
I don’t, just because everything would vary. At the end of of the day, I didn’t want to look at numbers. I had my incredible wardrobe supervisor who dealt with all of that. I will say this is the first time I’ve seen a network support the idea of building something without limitation.
This interview has been edited and condensed.