The Film World of Jean Paul Gaultier

This week, San Francisco enters the film world of Jean Paul Gaultier! Tonight, in partnership with the Fashion Film Festival, Friday Nights at the de Young presents Falbalas, the film that inspired Gaultier to embark on his fashion odyssey. Also tonight, the Castro Theater screens a JPG double feature, which includes Luc Besson’s sci-fi adventure The Fifth Element. And on Sunday, the Fashion Film Festival features Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s dark fairy tale The City of Lost Children at the Roxie.

Fifth Element

Jean Paul Gaultier, Costume sketch for The Fifth Element, directed by Luc Besson, 1997 © Jean Paul Gaultier

Growing up, Gaultier was fascinated by the bourgeoning popular culture he witnessed through the lens of the small screen. When the young designer saw a television broadcast of the French film Falbalas (or Paris Frills), he was immediately taken in by the culture of Parisian couture depicted therein.

Peter Greenaway’s epicurean love story, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) is a phantasmagorical and visually lush film that proved a perfect vehicle for Jean Paul Gaultier’s costume designs. According to Helen Mirren, who starred in the film, Greenaway and Gaultier shared a similar sensibility, each one an original, “unafraid to be controversial and personal, with an intensely visual approach.”

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren wearing a definitive Jean Paul Gaultier-designed costume

The same could be said of Gaultier and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. The documentary Truth or Dare—which followed Madonna throughout her Blond Ambition tour—inspired Almodóvar to ask Gaultier to create costumes for the film Kika. It would be the first of many collaborations between the filmmaker and the designer, both of whom have been dubbed the enfants terribles of their industries.


Pedro Almodóvar, Victoria Abril and Jean Paul Gaultier for the opening of Kika, directed by Pedro Almodóvar, 1993 © DR/Archives Jean Paul Gaultier

After seeing The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover, French directors Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet recognized a kindred spirit in Jean Paul Gaultier. When the designer expressed his admiration for their first feature, Delicatessen, Caro and Jeunet invited him to design the costumes for The City of Lost Children (Le cité des enfants perdus), the duo’s second feature film.

City of Lost Children

Film still from The City of Lost Children

Luc Besson’s 1997 blockbuster The Fifth Element is the most mainstream film in which Jean Paul Gaultier’s costumes appear. A fantastical, action-packed adventure, the movie stars Bruce Willis—who appears as the designer’s avatar, with cropped bleach-blond hair wearing a cut-out orange top—and Milla Jovovich as the universe-saving fifth element.

Bruce Willis

Jean Paul Gaultier, Costume sketch for Bruce Willis. The Fifth Element, directed by Luc Besson, 1997 © Jean Paul Gaultier

Gaultier was drawn to the highly visual way in which Besson articulated his characters. Gaultier felt that in Besson films, "before they said a single word, you could read [the] character’s psychology just from their look.”

Jean Paul Gaultier continues to design costumes for film, most recently revisiting his collaboration with Almodóvar in films like Bad Education (Mala educación) (2004) and The Skin I Live In (2011).

Tonight, watch the film that started it all! Falbalas will be screened at 6:30 p.m. in the Koret Auditorium at the de Young.

Download a complete list of Gaultier film screenings taking place throughout the run of the exhibition here. You can see all the films for which Jean Paul Gaultier designed costumes on our Pinterist board.


Further reading: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk