Chic as shit. That’s really the only way to describe this group. They are known as La Sape. Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes. The Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People. Yeah, it’s not gonna get chicer than that... Ever. To be a member of La Sape , one would be referred to as a “sapeur.”
But it gets deeper than that. La Sape is a social movement among particular people of the Republic of Congo. Didier Gondola, Assistant Professor of History at Indiana University, writes a brilliant essay titled, Dream And Drama: The Search for Elegance Among Congolese Youth. He explains that his essay: “Deals with fashion (La Sape) and its use among Congolese youth as a vehicle to borrow new identities. La Sape is an ambiguous adventure, a sort of Baudelairian voyage, that leads Congolese youth, Sapeurs, not only from a third world to Paris and Brussels, but also from social dereliction to psychological redemption. It authenticates and validates their quest for a new social identity which the African city has failed to provide its overwhelming population of youth. It is, above all, a study of the interactions between clothing and social and cultural identities and the transfer of meaning from one to the other, and vice versa. La Sape allows the Sapeur to define the boundaries that separate him from the Other, but also serves as a defined social territory which distinguishes the Sapeurs from the rest of society.”
What I find so interesting is the juxtaposition of the clothing to the environment. Here they are, Les Saveurs, standing out in their brightly colored suits and their elegant mannerisms against a backdrop of abject poverty.
In a moving documentary titled, Sapeurs, we are educated to the pacifist ways of the Le Sape. You can watch it HERE. Amongst all of the turmoil and fighting, it explains that they have a simple philosophy … To defy circumstances and live with a joie de vivre. They never support violence and are always polite, never vulgar. The documentary explains, “That life is not defined by occupation or wealth but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity.” Les Sapeurs motto is: It’s not the cost of the suit that counts. It’s the worth of the man inside it.”
I first discovered these extraordinary men, believe it or not, in a remarkable video by Solange Knowles titled, Losing You. Watch it HERE. If you don’t think it’s the most fabulous video ever I literally don’t want to be friends with you.
Lastly, it is an absolute must to have this book in your library. It is called Gentlemen of Bacongo by Daniele Tamagni. You can purchase it HERE. It is an exuberant photographic journal of Les Saveurs. Amazon.com quotes “The author is an Italian photographer and art historian, with a particular fascination and focus on African culture and society. He moved into photography after working as a researcher in museums, galleries and churches. In 2007, he won the best portfolio in the Canon Young Photographer award for Italy with his images of Congolese dandies.” A little très chèr at $200 but well worth the price to look educated, non?
A tout á l’heure!