And now for something completely different!
The first two films I discussed on here are very near and dear to my heart. But as much as I love them, the costuming is also pretty tame. It’s my intention to look at all sorts of movie costuming, not just the beautiful dresses (but I do love the beautiful dresses.)
So let’s talk about science fiction. I am, at some point, going to have to make an entire post listing iconic looks from 70s and 80s sci-fi flicks, but that time is not this time.
Science fiction has the ability to go there, whether it be socially like Star Trek, technologically like Metropolis or fashionably like The Fifth Element.
If you are a sci-fi fan, a film student or another movie costuming geek, you’ll likely have seen and/or heard about The Fifth Element before. Directed by Luc Besson, the film was released in 1997 to mixed reviews but gained a big fanbase. The film stars Bruce Willis as cab driver Korben Dallas and Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, an embodiment of the fifth element. Leeloo has the task of combining with the other four elements to prevent the Great Evil from destroying the world, etc. At one point they get on a giant intergalactic cruise. It’s a whole thing.
In terms of plot, you get a lot of standard big-budget sci-fi stuff. There’s a gruff male lead shrouded in mystery, a beautiful and strange lady who kicks butt, a scary villain and the world in jeopardy. Something that did catch my attention the first I watched this movie was the costuming in it.
It’s pretty spectacular. The costume design for the movie was done by none other than French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, known for his own haute couture and prêt-à-porter fashions as well as his stint as the creative director of Hermès from 2003-2010. Gaultier also designed Madonna’s stage costumes for her 2006 Confessions tour and the infamous cone bra worn on her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990. Other clients include Mairlyn Manson.
Gaultier’s knack for the unexpected and attention-grabbing lends itself perfectly to The Fifth Element, as movie that is, by all accounts, a bit over the top. Gaultier created more than 1000 costumes for the film, from the main characters to extras in crowd shots.
Let me point you to some specific visuals.
Leeloo’s bandage outfit is a pretty good place to start. It’s a step up from her being completely naked, strategically covered up as at the beginning of the movie, she’s naked in the tank she escapes from. Think of it as Gaultier’s “underwear as outerwear” collection on an acid trip. Obviously, literally no one except Milla Jovovich could dream of pulling this off.
From the strategic bands to Leeloo’s orange suspenders. The ones that perfectly match her hair. With that white crop top and gold pants, that’s honestly a look that has potential for translation today. A little 90s, a little weird.
Now, we have to talk about Chris Tucker’s truly iconic turn as radio host Ruby Rhod. His performance was amazing and his costumes were ridiculously extravagant and suited the character perfectly. Highlights include his introduction look of all-leopard and the black satin and roses number seen in the singing performance sequences.
And we need to talk about the extras. Gaultier’s obsessive attention to detail is to thank for every supporting cast member looking fire at all times.
Not to mention what Gaultier did with uniforms. We have the cruise attendants in their blue bustiers and matching hats.
We can touch on the uncomfortable notion of service industry uniforms getting increasingly sexy and revealing in the future – seen initially with the gorgeous model-like McDonald’s employees who make a brief cameo in the movie’s beginning. I will say, the golden arches headpiece and red wig is a pretty great touch. Extreme branding meets extreme accessorizing.
From start to finish, The Fifth Element is a fun ride, and the costumes make that experience all the better. while the film itself had a huge budget and Dan Weil on production design, the costumes Gaultier created make the movie so much more memorable and have set the overall look for the 23rd century.
Elle (Gaultier Retrospective)
Dazed Digital (Gaultier and The Fifth Element)
AUTHOR’S NOTE: To anyone who may follow this blog regularly, I’m going to be away the next few weeks on a road trip so there will not be any new posts! After I return we’ll be back to regular programming!