Photos from a new coffee table book, the Gentlemen of Bacongo, by Italian photographer Daniele Tamagni. It depicts the ‘sapeurs’ of Brazzaville, Congo, and their amazing style based around tailored designer suits, bowler hats and pipes.
I love the way the sapeurs take something that is quite classic (the tailored suit) and push things forward with the use of colour and accesories. It is so rare to see interesting male style exhibited on such a scale. I am also really interested in social groups based around clothes, so I went to find out more. Here is an introduction:
Sapeurs are members of ‘Le SAPE’ (Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes), an exclusive club based around a flamboyant, but impeccably groomed style of dress. It may seem superficial, in that it elevates European haute couture designer fashions to the status of mock religion, and a big part of being a saupeur seems to be standing in the street posing. But members also have their own code of honour, based on good manners, politeness and morality. Sapeurs reject violence, as its thought that if your clothes can’t do your fighting for you, you’re not a real sapeur.
Le Sape was invented by the musician Papa Wemba in 1979, who is its king or president to this day. The cult of the Sapeur was partly a reaction to the Authenticity movement in the Congo (then Zaire), which led to the banning of all European and western styles of imported clothing in favour of a return to ‘authentic’ African clothing. Papa Wemba wanted to make it a pleasure rather than a crime to wear something from Paris.
The Sapeur cult is taken very seriously, hold its own dances, and proclaimed its own manifestos and codes (such as defining ten ways of walking in order to show off one’s couture clothes to their best degree). The Sape continues to this day and operates like a mini-state providing its own social strata: president, ministers, acolytes and so on, which presumably provides some stability and positivity during times of poverty and politcal instability.
Fascinating, isn’t it?