Men’s fashion has never really featured on the site, why? Well I have not been overly impressed by what is available. Not to say that no man is currently dressing well (Benedict Cumberbatch scrubs up well). Simply put, the spark that I feel when I see certain types of female fashions has rarely made it presence felt. However, I can now share a stylish subculture that has enchanted me. Both with the actually items featured and the story behind this movement.
When one mentions the Congo, words like ‘war’, ‘brutality’, ‘river’ and ‘rainforest’ are what usually comes to mind. Now there is a new word, new image to add, style. Among certain gentlemen based largely in Brazzaville and Kinshasa; tailored suits, canes, brightly coloured silk shirts and spotless leather shoes are the only way to be seen out in. These modern dandies are known as Sapeurs, an acyrnym of Congolese Societe des Ambianceurs des et Personnes Elegants. Translates as ‘Society of Tastemakers and Elegant Persons’ are not a recent occurrence. As far back as the 18th Century, most of continental Africa was colonised by either the English, French or in the case of the Congo Belgium. European masters would dress their slaves in the fashion dandy wear (since slaves were viewed as less than human, this would have been the 18th Century version of people dressing up their pets in cute little outfits). Once slavery was abolished, newly liberated Africans still enjoyed the stylish clothes and thus the evolution began. 1922 saw the first Sapeur superstar was Andre Matsoua, a political and religious figure who after living in Paris for several years was a sight to behold back in the Belgium Congo with his fine attires. Most recent Sapeur hero was Papa Wemba AKA La Pape de Sape (The Pope of Sape ). During 1960’s, Wemba had a voracious appetite for French fashion. What gave gravitas to Wemba’s commitment to élan was the timing. Once Congo was liberated from Belgium rule, any hint of European association was offensive. Wemba was defiant in his splendour, with the background of dictatorship and poverty. Even setting up in a village where he had preached good grooming and hygiene regardless of a person’s background. Andre 3000 of Outkast is possible the most famous fan of Sapeurism.
Some of you (myself included) may have first become of Sapeurs from the adverts for Guinness ran a few years ago. Where you see a load of impoverished men toiling away and the grind of life. However as the advert continues you see the men transform themselves from poor labourers into suited and booted dandies. Taking care of their valued articles, making sure that their items are perfect.
What must be pointed out, it that these are not wealthy men who are coiffed and polished. Most are employed in low payed jobs, that to me makes the culture even more impressive. A clear dedication that not even war cannot diminish. Maybe when you have experienced such turmoil and trauma, distractions become a coping mechanism. In this case fashion, attention to detail and taking pride in one’s appearance. Restoring you to who you truly are, not to be defined by your experiences and endurances.
To brush Saperuism as sartorial snobbery or shallow vanity would be too lose the nuisances of this culture. Sapeurists not only enjoy their dress sense, they have an enjoyment life. Most abstain from drink and most are religiously pious. One motto is ‘Lets drop the weapons, let us work and dress elegantly’ a poignant reminder that in the face of destruction and devastation, beauty, peace and hope can survive and thrive.