Instead of taking any costume designer Besson chose to work with a high end, french fashion designer: “I wanted the best and that is Jean - Paul Gaultier.“
Gaultier is known to be the Enfant Terrible dela ModeI because of his extremely provocative and experimental style; for example he created a man skirt in 1985 and is the designer behind Madonna‘s famous cone bra. Before The Fifth Element his designs were seen in movies such as Kika and The City of Lost Children. For Besson however he let his imagination run wild more than ever, in a way it is impossible in haute couture, even for him. Gaultier created a future look defined by unusual materials and looks inspired by the past: “I spoke with Luc about what is futuristic, and we decided that there could be elements of today... Everything is possible“3. His signature style however is still very evident in the crinoline hoops worn on the outer side of clothes, very feminine male costumes, or ripped dinner shirts.
The two protagonists of the movie, Korben, played by Bruce Willis, and Leeloo, played by Mila Jovovich, wear some of the most provocative and typical clothes of Gaultier‘s. Their outfits and color palettes are put in strong relation: she wears white and orange, he wears orange and black. The ribbed, backless, orange tank of his, accentuating the manly arms and body, is in resemblance to Leeloo‘s orange dreadlocks. In the second half of the movie Gaultier put him into a tuxedo in order to blend in with the other guests of the opera on his undercover mission. As he looses his cover and the fight grows bigger, his shirt gets more and more ripped apart, underlining more and more Dallas‘s heroic - ness. On the other hand, Leeloo‘s white ‘dress‘ is made out of the white cloth that restrained her to the incubator table she was created on in the lab of the scientists. They simply tie around her as she breaks free. In the second half, when the focus of Leeloo lies more in fighting, than in escaping, her outfit contains heavy black boots, golden pants, orange plastic straps and a cropped white ribbed shirt giving her firmity and robustness for the fight; qouting Gaultier: “The costume has to go well with what she has to do. She has to be very active.“4
The priest Vito Cornelius, played by Ian Holm, is constantly dressed in earth tones. He resembles a wise old man holding much knowledge and secrets about the past. His clothes and color palette match this with knitted pullovers, pleated trousers, and to the floor long capes.
Throughout the movie there is a consistent differentiation between public work places, and homes or ‘fun‘ places. The official and public world is dark, metallic, cold, and negative; seen in, for instance, the city of New York, or the hallway in front of Korben‘s apartment. The colors are ranging from an ice blue to black. There is no sensation of positivity or hope in this world. Everything is controlled and no real freedom is given. On the contrary, homes and Fhloster Paradise is dominated by yellows, golds, browns, and reds. Life is given a more positive feeling. For example Korben‘s one bedroom apartment is entirely colored in a yellowish tone, in addition filled with personal belongings and memories such as pictures; whereas the evil Jean Baptiste Emanuel Zork has nothing personal in his home. Although Zorg‘s home is yellowish in color as well, it is filled with robots, weapons, and other creations underlining the loneliness and cold hearted souls of evil.
The last, and visually most interesting main character is the villain of the story Jean Baptiste Emanuel Zork, played by Gary Oldman. Zorg pretends to be an art dealer, when in real he builds and sells arms, and above all and most importantly though, is highly interested in getting a hold of the four element stones.
Luc Besson identified Zorg‘s style as “dandy, nouveau riche, Hitler“5 and when talking about his character Gary Oldman simply explains Zorg as a “Galactic Trailor Trash“ and “Bugs Bunny meets Ross Parole“6. Generally, Zorg comes about as a comic villain with a twist. His outfits are made out of shiny rubber, he has a metal leg, and a plastic piece on his head which is only explained by the words: “...it‘s just the strange, wacky world of Jean Paul Gaultier“7.
Zorg‘s first outfit, which he wears when out on business, is a futurized look of a business man involved in shady, underground business. This look appears when he is selling guns to the aliens and when coming to collect the stones from Fhloster Paradise. The costume is inspired by the SS uniform back from the Hitler days. He wears a dark blue, pinstrip suit made out of rubber. The pants are stuck into high boots and the shirt has high collar, both very typical in SS uniforms. Matching to the suit Zorg has a coat with a red inside. Here Gaultier‘s sense for detail becomes extremly obvious: The red inside is only seen twice in the movie, both times right before an explosion initiated by Zorg. The red color links first to the red button on the arms, and second to the time display of the bomb placed on Fhloster Paradise.
Through the dark and cold color palette Zorg blends in with the gloomy and evil atmosphere of the moment and space it is situated in. Both aspects contribute to underlining his character and the mischief he is about. However, at the same time, with his strange head piece and the funny accent from Arizona, he becomes this comic villain which Besson planned him to be.
Zorg‘s second outfit is seen when he is in his home. It consists of the same boots and pants as before, but instead of a pinstriped dark vest, he wears a rainbow colored vest also with a high color. When wearing this outfit he is in his personal space and is more vulnerable than when out on business. this can be seen, for instance, when the evil Mr Shadow calls and punishes him for not retrieving the stones. The color palette is much warmer than the one from outfit one, but again it stands in relation to its surroundings. However, in comparison to Korben‘s or the priest‘s apartment, everything here, just like the owner himself, is cold and has nothing positive to it. Zorg surrounds himself by weapons and robots mirroring his loneliness. When Vito Cornelius is brought to his office this especially becomes visible as he swallows a cherry and has noone to save his life.
Concluding, Zorg‘s rubberized, shiny outfits give him a notion of distance to humanity. His character has nothing personal to him since all he surrounds himself by are aliens, robots, or weapons. Nevertheless, this is also what makes Zorg funny and look like a comic villan. Gaultier‘s work had great participation at succeeding at this task through his own strangeness, off - ness, and provocativeness.
Apart from the great detail payed to each single one of the main characters, Gaultier did not miss out on losing focus when it came to small roles. For example, all of the majors, sailors, captains, and such, are dressed in a very classical way in which we see them today as well. They also add to the Gaultier style with the trademark rings on the sleeves and much gold. More attention to detail can be seen in the radio host‘s all lepard outfit or black jump suit with red roses decolletage, Zorg‘s funky all in blue receptionist, the chanel make up box version year 2262, the stewardess (inspiration taken from the Air France staff ), even the McDonalds service. Gaultier did not leave out a thing and as Luc Besson said he checked every single outfit himself before letting it appear on set.
The Fifth Element is full of interesting and unusual materials defining a futuristic look inspired by today and humanity‘s past. Gaultier matched moods, setting, characters relation, and activities perfectly with their costumes and created, in my opinion, one of the visually most strongest movies.