Pushing Boundaries and Shaping Stories: A Conversation with Costume Design Visionary Marina Toybina

Marina Toybina is a luminary in the world of costume design, renowned for her innovative and captivating work that has graced numerous iconic stages and screens. With a remarkable career marked by six Emmy Awards, Marina’s creative brilliance has left an indelible mark on the entertainment industry. From her early influences in Moscow, Russia, to her journey across continents and genres, Marina’s designs seamlessly merge various artistic elements, reflecting her dynamic personality and deep passion for storytelling through attire.

Known for her exceptional ability to bring characters to life through intricate costumes, Marina’s work has shaped the visual narratives of various television shows and live performances. In this exclusive interview, Marina delves into her creative process, the challenges she has faced, and the ever-evolving landscape of the entertainment and fashion industries.

Who are some of your early idols? OR Who has inspired you professionally? 

There are so many insanely talented people that have touched all aspects of my creativity. One of my favorite costume designers of all time, Eiko Ishioka, was who really made me fall in love with the innovation of costume design. Her ability to create art that created conversation was something I wanted to portray with my work as well. Although I’ve looked up to a lot of actors and the characters they play, and the costumes they wear, my inspiration has always been towards music. Even Motown and the suits they used to wear. A lot of the greats such as Grace jones, Elton john, David bowie, Michael jackson, Cher, Tina Tuner, Grace Kelly, Elvis, Prince, Madonna, Marilyn monroe, Freddie Mercury, Bjork, ABBA, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Sex Pistols, and Dolly Parton, have heavily inspired aspects of my designs throughout my whole career. My list could go on forever but I strongly believe music and design go hand in hand, and these artists did an amazing job at executing that.

Can you walk us through your creative process when designing costumes for a new show or character? 

Every project is so different and requires its own process. For example, when designing a character, it’s all about making sure that character is created with intention, purpose, narrative, and impact. Is there a story behind this creature or persona? What do their clothes portray in the narrative of the project? 

When designing a live show, there’s so many different collaborations that happen in order to bring one large project to life that you become a variable in the process. At that point the pre production and initial creative discussions are the most challenging step to be able to execute a design show. Everyone needs to end up on the same page before you dive into executing a design, so that in the end all departments can come together in harmony.

How has the television industry’s perspective on costume design changed over the years, if at all?

If anything I think it’s become more challenging as the expectations grow for what’s possible to bring to live or pre-recorded television. It’s become a bit more difficult to execute when the timeline and budget don’t meet those expectations eye to eye. Now the industry is hungry for creativity and people’s best work, but it also has yet to meet creatives and designers half way to give us the proper tools to execute those expectations.

Tell us about a particularly challenging project or character design and how you overcame the obstacles. 

The number one factor that can become challenging in any project is lack of resources and lack of budget. Overcoming this requires my team and I to be extremely creative and be able to work with what we have to get it done. A major factor is also surrounding myself with the right team who can think ahead and execute design elements with the right eye. Some of the most challenging designs for me was how elaborate the characters were on The Masked Singer, but it always pushed me to be more innovative. There were times where a character had fallen in my lap last minute and needed to be fully executed and stage ready in 72 hours. At that point there’s no room for error or mistakes. This truly takes a lot of collaboration and not a lot of sleep!

The entertainment industry is known for its tight schedules. How do you manage the pressure and deadlines, especially when needing to make last-minute changes?

For me, it’s about prioritizing the necessary steps in order to accommodate the changes that may be coming in. As well as transparency in my communication with other departments involved, as to how best we can achieve the demands and creative asks.

What’s been the most rewarding project for you so far, and why? 

One of the most rewarding projects for me so far would have to be Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Anniversary Celebration. Throughout that whole project I felt I was able to really touch on all sides of my creativity and evolve as a designer. I was able to experiment and utilize all the tools I’ve gained throughout the years. This job included all aspects of a show, it was dancing, music, art, acting, and so much more. I also saw my team put their best foot forward and create their best work, which in turn allowed me to come through as a designer as we executed the show.

Collaborations are often vital in the entertainment industry. Can you share a memorable experience working with another Talent that influenced your designs? 

When working on Beauty and The Beast: A 30th Celebration, we had such an extraordinary cast that I really had the chance to be one on one with our talent. H.E.R, who was one of my incredible lead characters, heavily influenced my design through this project in the best way possible. We had such a transparent working relationship that we were able to collaborate in a way that represented her Filipino heritage and pushed my designs further. Thus, Belle’s apron was created with beautiful ancient Filipino script hand painted on the front. This turned into one of the proudest moments of my career.

Can you describe a time when your work had an unexpected impact, either on the talent, the audience, or perhaps even on yourself? 

One that might be more obvious to my audience would be the 2015 Superbowl halftime show with Katy Perry where the fabricated puppet costumes broke the internet (aka Left Shark). This show was proof that you never know how your art will affect people or invoke a certain emotion in a crowd. It was really amazing to see all of the art come out of this performance and still see those characters circling to this day.

For myself it would have to be the Russian Dolls on the Masked Singer. Not only did I get to design something that was an homage to my Russian heritage but I got to work with Hanson who I am a major fan of. It was a special moment to be able to put so many aspects of myself into a costume like that.

Winning an Emmy once is a significant achievement, but six times is extraordinary. To what do you attribute your consistent success? 

My team, my commitment, the process of always evolving and learning new things. Being able to bring forth innovative ideas to my design work and stay diverse in my creativity. I’ve been able to study and excel in so many different avenues of artistry and had the incredible honor of collaborating with so many great people over the years. I think it allowed me to broaden my knowledge and merge all those elements into my work. If we can’t keep learning and evolving we’ll get stuck in the same place, and a focus of mine has always been to try to keep pushing boundaries.

With six Emmys under your belt, are there still certain projects or challenges you’re eager to tackle in your career?

I’m always open to new opportunities. If anything, I’m now more selective with the projects I’d like to be involved with and put my creative energy toward. Having the credibility and recognition from the industry allows me to now make better decisions about which project is perfect for me moving forward.

You may also like

Get the print magazine.

The best of BUST in your inbox!

Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


About Us

Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

©2023 Street Media LLC.  All Right Reserved.