The Sapeurs and Dandies of Congo

What is Sapeurism?

Sapeurism is a concept that is used to describe a fashion trend that has become very popular among people in both Brazzaville and Kinshasa, the capitals of The Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively.

The term is derived from the French term SAPE, which is an acronym for ‘Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes’ – a fashion trend which can be traced to 18th and 19th Century France, which was characterised by the act of dressing stylishly and colourfully in expensive suits, ties, hats and other accessories such as walking sticks and monocles.

More importantly, it was also characterised by walking with an air of importance in order to show style, taste and class.

Hassan Salvador walks down a Mungali street with his Parisian friend Tony M’Samba and three younger friends (petits). They will attend a funeral of a relative of Tony. “Petits” like to be close to sapeurs in order to learn from them.

The Dandies of Congo

Within the last decade, the peoples of Kinshasa and Brazzaville began to draw attention to their respective countries as a result of their return to Dandyism. They would be seen dressed in fancy clothing which were anything but cheap! These ‘Dandies’ adorn the most expensive of silk suits, pants, shoes, ties, bowler hats, pipes, monocles or glasses and walk about in a way that is sure to attract attention wherever they go. Dandyism in the Congo goes beyond merely wearing expensive clothing items. There is a whole lot of effort that goes into strutting, composure, show of taste and class and even use of language. They augment their appearances with bright, beautiful, and colourful patterns and designs that are characteristic of their indigenous ‘Liputa’ styles.

PH RT: Documentary

Interestingly, the dandies do not live in palaces or mansions; and they do not have bank accounts that could make the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet cringe. Far from it. These hardworking and industrious individuals belong to either the middle or lower classes in the society. Some of them even live in shanties and poor communities but would rather save for a year (or more) in order to be able to afford a Tom Ford suit or adorn outfits by Armani and his ilk. The attires they wear are of top quality and are usually shipped in from prestigious fashion stores in Europe and America. For these guys, it would seem that appearances are truly everything.

Photographer: Daniele Tamagni

Furthermore, the Dandies in both The Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo are content with their simple life and crave nothing more than attention and recognition as ‘people of taste and class’. In both Brazzaville and Kinshasa, these colourfully dressed men strut about with an air of importance, and this can only be the result of the high standards of dandyism in the Congo region. The subculture movement attaches a lot of importance to the name of the designer that made the suit or clothing item, the blending or matching of different colours, style, swagger, demeanour and attitude. Put simply, being a dandy in the Congo is no easy feat, and deserves praise and recognition.

Les Sapeurs’ collection by Nikki Billie Jean





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