Decoding Fashion Concept And Design In “The Fifth Element” Film.

Costume design is a vital element when telling a story on a film and giving live to a character that is delicated constructed by a creative team and the director. There is always symbolic language, colour theory, and even psychological aspects to have in mind that send a strong message to the viewer.

By Claudette
August 3, 2020

Have you ever wondered who is behind the magic and styling of the wonderful film The Fifth Element released in 1997? well, Jean Paul Gaultier! a very well known French iconic fashion haute couture and Prêt-à-porter designer is behind our story today.

The director of this film Luc Besson, let this famous designer be as creative as he wanted while being faithful to his own vision and gathering inspiration from his own obstentous and exuberant haute couture collections, even though he had very little experience in the film industry. Working with Jean-Claude Mézières french comic and illustrator artist who conceived the film’s visuals to create a cohesive aesthetic, sending a strong message to the viewer.

With an incredibly talented team, Robert Mark Kamen the screenwriter, Thieny Arbogast as the Art Director, Eric Serra for the music composition and an outstanding cast of actors: Gary Oldman, Milla Jovovich, Luke Perry, Ian Holm, Maïwenn Besco, Chris Tucker, Brion James and Tony Lister who helped to make this movie an amazing piece.

Jean Paul Gaultier made this film his very own Cat Walk, envisioned a great futuristic concept and ended up with a great design proposal that made him deserving of several nominations and one big win for “Best Costume Design” for this film. 

So, let’s talk about fashion in the 23rd century as one of the visual concepts of the movie and let’s analyze some of the main characters. We can identify different styles based in it’s funtional value with a fun and colourful twist, capturing the futuristic spirit of the time where the story is being created. We can identify that the importance of the costume design in this film is tied up to the social and cultural connotation as a tool of expression in real life with a provocative and elegant yet functional touch.

Gaultier created about one thousand costumes, he had to do numerous sketches following the same steps as when creating ten whole fashion collections, but this time, a little bit different. He had to follow the character guidelines and work with the creative team of the movie, photographers, make up artists, hair stylist, and many more. In many cases, when creating the wardrobe for a film, the designer has to follow a brief of the character, which will include: Exact physical appearance, socio-economic and psychological aspects, family values and stage appearance. This is fundamental now that the costume and colour styling is one of the first elements that the viewer perceive and makes them connect with the story and characters in most cases.


Photo 1: Leeloo film The Fifth Element

Leeloo minai lekarariba-laminai-tchai ekbat de sebat A.K.A Leelo, who is played by Milla Jovovich. She got to wear the most iconic costume for the film: The white bandage bodysuit, which she had to wear for 16 minutes only in the film. The designer tried to gives us the impression of purity, perfection and sublimity when using white due to she was playing the most important character. The fabric stripes delimit the silhouette showing up the slim and althetic figure of the actress. The style was pretty much minimalist and futurist. We get a feeling the fabric is resistent and it’s synthetic and the straight lines evoque perfection.

Photo 2: Leeloo artist concept by Jacques Rey for Design House of Jean Paul Gaultier ‘92/ Photo 3: Film “The fifth element”.
Photo 4 & 5 :© Jean Paul Gaultier, costume sketch for The Fifth Element, directed by Luc Besson, 1997

On her second outfit, which She uses for 28 minutes total, we can see the deigner wanted to evoque a very strong character that entered a new phase: atletic and heroic, aswell as sensible. With very tech vibes when using the orange rubber braces, a sexy white ribbed flannel crop top and lycra golden pants with black trim and black boots. With symetric cut and anatomical design which follows the curves of her body, it gives us an harmonic silhouette. This outfits helps us understand that Leeloo is in this new heroic phase where she understand she is the 5th element and is key to fight and take care of what she was commended to do.

Korben Dallas

Photo 6: Jean Paul Gaultier, Costume sketch for Bruce Willis./ Photo 7: Film The Fifth Element

Now it’s the turn for our handsome savior Korben Dallas, played by Bruce Willis. We can see already that Gaultier really wanted to show alot of skin in this characters. This outfit makes him look very athletic with military aesthetic giving us the impression of his heroic and warrior profile. He is always looking like he is in constant movement, so his outfits gives us the impression of a very urban style with versatility and innovation when using the rubber colourful shirt on him. On his 2nd outfit, we can feel the James Bond vibes, very elegant and classic, projecting alot of agility, decision and security. while the film progresses we realice Korben is a very well knows experimented military who is willing to fight his life to protect and save the earth in a very relaxed way.

Ruby Rhod

Photo 8: Ruby Rhod concept by Jacques Rey for Jean-Paul Gaultier © / Photo 9:Film The Fifth Element

Ruby Rhod, played by Chris Tucker, used this fantastic Velvet Leopard Print Jumpsuit. The collar style gives us Queen Elizabeth inspiration vibes. It looks exentric, luxurious and striking, perfect for someone that looks to be a famous artist who is exentric and egocentric and wants to call the attention at all times. On his second outfit change, we can see him wearing the same tight silhouette with volume at the top, a black velvet suit with red roses and alot of accesories that gives him this special kitsch style.

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg

 Photo 10: Original concept art for Zorg in fifth element by Jean-Paul Gaultier/ Photo11: Film The Fifth Element
 Photo 12: Original concept art for Zorg in fifth element by Jean-Paul Gaultier/ Photo13: Film The Fifth Element

Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, played by Gary Oldman. Our temperamental character, who works for the evil entity, is a industrialist, so he gets to wear the elegant futurist and dymanic uniform like bussiness suits. This tells us, Zorg has a refined and extravagant taste but an very imbalanced life due to the mix of textures, patterns and chromantic combinations. His looks makes him look wealthy and tech savvy but also some sort of sick, we know he is going under alot of stress due to his contact with the great evil and his greed for power and money and this makes him lose control. The headdress piece and elongated neck style is very important when attracting the eye of the viewer to his facial expressions.

Other outfits, worth to mention

Photo 14 & 15: Original concept art for McDonald’s uniform in fifth element by Jean-Paul Gaultier © Jean Paul Gaultier
Photo 16 & 17: Original concept art for Airport And Flight Attendants in fifth element by Jean-Paul Gaultier © Jean Paul Gaultier

We also had more amazing outfits like, Zorgs secretary, the disguised Mangalores, Baby Ray, Zorg’s right arm,  Priest Vito Cornelius, the Mondoshawan alien Diva Plavalaguna and many more. Even all of the uniforms: doctors, scientist, policeman, militars and the president had a strong part when creating the whole futuristic, dystopian and colourful cyberpunk aesthetic.

This movie is pretty much worth to watch if you like sci fi, futurism, comics, fashion and even romance and comedy. Jean Paul Gaultier did a great work for this film and helped out with it’s visual narrative by creating cohesive and out of this world designs.