Costume Party #4, Futuristic–The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element
USA, 1997
Directed by Luc Besson
Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen
Starring Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich
Costume design by Jean-Paul Gaultier

Available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video


The Fifth Element is preposterous in every way, and I mean that as a compliment. This is what I like about futuristic science fiction–nobody knows what the world will be like in 50, 100, 1000 years, so writers can get as wild as they want. This story takes place in the 23rd century, about 250 years from now. So it gets me thinking, what would people in 1765 think about us today? They’d probably find everything about our culture ridiculous and unbelievable, but entertaining as hell.

And that’s what Luc Besson has made of The Fifth Element. His future is colorful, zany, and exaggerated. Consider the story: Earth is threatened by approaching Evil. Yes, Evil with a capital E. Not an evil villain, not the idea of evil, but an entity named Evil, which is some kind of sentient planet or star that wants to destroy all life. That’s a pretty daunting antagonist. So who’s our hero? Korben Dallas, a stubborn, ornery cab driver (yeah, a flying cab). With the help of Leeloo, a so-called “perfect creation”, Korben must find the means to stop the oncoming Evil. Along the way he is aided by such personalities as the less-than-honest priest, Vito Cornelius, and the indescribably obnoxious radio star Ruby Rhod. Complicating the mission is the less-evil-then-Evil villain, Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg and his armies of blockheaded Mangalores. Wacky sci-fi antics ensue, as I’m sure you can imagine.

So what does a costume designer do with this little adventure? The answer is right there on the screen, and it’s the right answer. Jean-Paul Gartier, who previously designed for surrealist French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is right at home in this universe. His creations are thoroughly outrageous. I mean, what kind of mad genius puts Bruce Willis in an orange muscle shirt? Gaultier does. He also gives Chris Tucker a neckline made of roses. Somehow both of those things work, and they make the story even more awesome. Leeloo’s skimpy white costume is so cool and sexy that it’s been attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) by sci-fi nerd chicks for the last 18 years. But one thing I always wanted to know is, where did the characters find suspenders to perfectly match her Cheeto-colored hair?

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