Brazzaville, situated on the river Congo, is the capital city of the Republic of Congo. It is a jungle-strewn, impoverished place, in a country rife with political and financial difficulties, once described as “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad in his novel of the same name. It is possibly the last place on earth you would expect to find stylish gentlemen strutting the streets in their spats and colourful suits, with a swagger in their step, but the ‘Sapeurs’ of Brazzaville do exactly that.
Sapeurs stands for the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), a band of gentlemen who transcend their underprivileged background by dressing with a wonderful individualistic style.
They embody the idea that ‘style matters’. Simply wearing beautiful, well-made clothes transforms them into the gentlemen they aspire to be. They walk with a lightness of step and a joie de vivre , waving and smiling at passers-by, who sometimes whoop and applaud these stylish icons in the heart of Africa.
Much of their clothing choices are derived from the early jazz era of the 1920s and 30s. There is a flamboyance and vibrancy to their style, combined with immaculate presentation. You will see them in pristine suits of yellow, pink and blue, adorned with large bowties, a bowler hat and cane, and maybe an evening scarf. Sometimes they can even been seen donning a kilt!
Each man puts all his effort into his attire, and ensures that he is individualistic and different from his fellow sapeurs. In fact, they communicate to ensure that two men are not dressed the same, and they also have a culture of sharing clothes, which, when one suit can cost a life’s worth of savings, is a wonderfully communal and practical solution.
Instead of this style being some kind of mockery of their desperately poor, shanty-town environment, it is the outwardly visible symbol of a code of conduct, language and etiquette that rejects the brutal life of their country and is in fact the epitome of being a gentleman. They behave in a manner that befits the clothing; Sapeurs believe in treating others well, being calm and unaggressive, while also being proud and outgoing.
For those who think they have an excuse for not behaving in a gentlemanly way, they should take a look at these sartorial African gentleman, who are an inspiration to us all. Sapeurs – we salute you!
If you would like to see the Sapeurs in action, here is a lovely short documentary about them http://youtu.be/CScqFDtelrQ