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The fashion genius behind ''The Fifth Element''

Jean-Paul Gaultier gives fashion futuristic dimensions in the new Bruce Willis movie

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The fashion genius behind ”The Fifth Element”

Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element may be an incoherent sci-fi thriller set in 23rd-century New York City, but it offers racks full of the most riotously inventive looks seen on screen this year. The clothes come courtesy of Jean-Paul Gaultier, the French provocateur who created Madonna’s cone-shaped bustier. ”I wanted the best and that is Jean-Paul,” says Besson. ”He knows the color, he knows the flavor of New York.”

Model Milla Jovovich, whose relationship with Besson is the talk of the tabs, gets to wear Gaultier’s most outrageous outfit. Jovovich plays the flame-haired Leeloo, a sort of human embodiment of pure love, who’s born in an incubator. When she breaks free of her sterile chamber, her white cloth restraints go with her, becoming a barely there dress that’s light-years beyond mummy bandages. ”The costume has to go well with what she has to do,” the designer says. ”She has to be very active.”

Gaultier, whose garments have appeared in such movies as Kika and The City of Lost Children, took one of the big rages among Hollywood actresses — the backless look — and made it masculine for Bruce Willis. Playing a turbocharged taxi driver, Willis sports a Sunkist-orange-colored T-shirt with straps that accentuate his well-defined lats. In the film’s second half, Willis is clad in a classic tuxedo.

Even the smaller roles get shop-window treatment. As a high-flying radio host, Chris Tucker shimmies in a black jumpsuit with red roses outlining the decolletage, reminding Besson of early Prince. In a party scene, an extra wears a voluminous ball gown that has skirting made entirely of Plexiglas — just another example of Gaultier’s passion for unorthodox materials. But it’s McDonald’s employees and flight attendants who wear uniforms that truly subvert the office dress code. ”It’s a little change from what they are wearing on Air France,” admits Gaultier, who hopes a major carrier will consider using these costumes on its runways.

As outrageous as the outfits are, they’re actually not that far removed from the designer’s present-day duds. He’s been doing bandage dresses and backless menswear for years. And his rubberized chocolate brown pinstripe vest for the film’s villain, Gary Oldman, fits with the current vogue for mixing traditional patterns with peculiar fabrics. ”I spoke with Luc about what is futuristic, and we decided that there could be elements of today,” says Gaultier. ”You could even imagine that there will be only retro clothes in the future. Everything’s possible.”