You can hear it in his voice: Fabio Toblini simply loves designing clothes for the stage. This 40 year-old Italian designer, who trained in Milan and moved to New York in 1992, is the winner of the 2008 Irene Sharaff Young Master Award, presented by TDF (www.tdf.org) in recognition of Irene Sharaff's wish to see young designers encouraged on their way to fully acknowledged success and excellence in the field.

“I started late,” acknowledges Toblini, who actually began his career in fashion design but was drawn to the literature of theatre, the music of opera, an interest in developing characters, and the collaborative nature of working for the stage. “The costumes are not the end product for me,” he says. “It's all very psychological.” Toblini moves easily from offbeat musicals — such as Hedwig and The Angry Inch and Batboy — to dance and opera. “I enjoy working in each of these art forms and transforming the performers into someone else. An opera singer is very different from a ballet dancer or an actor. Each needs something different, and that's what gets me inspired.”

Toblini's first classical ballet designs were for Ballet Arizona's production of The Nutcracker. “I designed without thinking about practicality and then made the costumes work technically while creating a fairytale world for children and families,” he says. Toblini describes Opera Seria for the Nationale Reisopera in Holland as “the wackiest thing I have ever done. It is a Baroque 16th-century farce about a company putting on an opera. We decided to make it modern, with contemporary clothes and an absurd design. I may never have another chance to create costumes like that again.”

When it comes to fabrics, Toblini admits to being “a little bit of a snob, a remnant of my fashion background. I have to create good clothes, not just things that look good from a distance.” Inspired by the body, he adds, “How the costume looks and feels is very important, so it has to be the right fabric.” From watercolors to pencil sketches scanned and colored in Adobe Photoshop, Toblini took a high-tech approach when designing Macbeth for Portland Opera in 2006. “I took photos of my friends and dressed them in Photoshop to fit with the projections on the set.”

For a complete look at Toblini's portfolio, visit www.fabiotoblini.com