A small subculture exists deep in the Brazzaville district of the Congo – a place many of us have never even heard of – that pride themselves in dressing up in designer suits, $500 shoes and vintage top hats dating as far back as the 1930s. This high-fashion group of men are called Sapeurs. They emerged out of a movement called la SAPE, which stands for La Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, (The Society of Ambiance-makers and Elegant People). The sapeurs adhere to a subculture of high fashion, often against a backdrop of extreme poverty.(1)
Self-confessed dandies, Le Sapeurs, have taken the genteel art of dressing to its illogical conclusion. This particular group of sapeurs enjoy a style whose roots lie in salons of Paris of the twenties. (2) Respected and admired in their communities, today’s sapeurs see themselves as artists. Their refined manners and impeccable style in their attire bring a little glamour to their humble surroundings. These men often will choose to buy a new outfit either brand new or second-hand instead of a car, housing and sometimes even food. While some luxury shops exist in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, sapeurs prefer to source their clothes direct from shops in Paris and elsewhere. Those that can afford to will spend $1000’s on suits, shoes & accessories.
The men involved take huge pride in their appearance, selecting the most unusual shirts, ties, shoes and suits possible. They take inspiration from 1920s dandy styles of former French colonists – but impose their own twist and attitude to express their creativity.
In their everyday lives, the Sapeurs are farmers, taxi drivers, carpenters and labourers – ordinary working men. But after their day’s work, they transform. Within their local communities, they are a source of inspiration and positivity. They convene and talk – about “life, their family, helping people get back on track” – and dance or engage in friendly competition.
The Sapeurs have a simple philosophy: to live with joie de vivre. “Even if I don’t have money in my pocket, I only need to wear a suit and tie to feel really at ease
The Sapeurs, who count among them men up to 78 years old, are featured in a new Guinness ad and an accompanying documentary by director Héctor Mediavilla.
(1)Open gutters and Gucci loafers
http://www.africafeed.com/post/73905767/the-sapeurs-of-congo-open-gutters-and-gucci-loafers viewed 18th September 2014
(2)The Gentlemen of Bakongo and their cult of elegance
http://sabotagetimes.com/fashion-style/the-gentlemen-of-bakongo-and-their-cult-of-elegance/ viewed 18th September 2014