Toni-Leslie James has designed costumes nationally and internationally for every entertainment venue: feature film, television, opera, dance, industrials, regional theatre, and Broadway. For Broadway, she has designed Birthday Candles, Flying Over Sunset, Bernhardt/Hamlet, Come From Away, August Wilson’s Jitney, Lucky Guy, The Scottsboro Boys, Finian's Rainbow, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, King Hedley II, One Mo’ Time, The Wild Party, Marie Christine, Footloose, The Tempest, Twilight Los Angeles 1992, Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Jelly’s Last Jam.
Off Broadway, James has designed multiple productions for The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Soho Rep, Lincoln Center Theatre, The New York Theatre Workshop, and the NY City Center Encores series. Regionally, her work was seen in productions for La Jolla Playhouse, Steppenwolf, Hartford Stage, the Long Wharf Theatre, Baltimore Center Stage, the Old Globe, Mark Taper Forum, Arena Stage, Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, the Round House Theatre, Seattle Rep, the Shakespeare Theatre, Berkley Rep, the Alliance Theatre, Goodspeed Playhouse, the Williamstown Theatre Festival, ACT, and Crossroads Theatre Co. Internationally, James has designed for The Abbey Theater in Ireland, The Young Vic, the Royal Court Theater, the Chichester Theater Festival, and currently on the West End in the UK. James has also designed for the Athens Greek Festival and Radio Dansmark TV in Denmark. James was the head costume designer for Whoopi on NBC and the CBS soap opera As the World Turns, and she designed four specials for WNET/13’s Great Performances series. Her work has been displayed in nine major museum and college exhibitions, including a 2006 retrospective of her career at The American Museum of Natural History: Designing Woman: Inside The Life And Career of Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James; the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library exhibition Curtain Call: A Century of Designing Women; and More Life!: Angels in America at Twenty at the Museum of Performance + Design in San Francisco.
James received a BFA in theatre from The Ohio State University. She served as an associate professor and head of design at the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Theatre (2007–2019). James was awarded an honorary doctorate by Sewanee, The University of the South, in 2018. In November 2021, James was recognized with the Ming Cho Lee Award for Lifetime Achievement in Design, presented by the Henry Hewes Design Awards.