La Sape’ is a lifestyle built on a simple set of values: dress sharp, act with integrity and inspire others. A Congolese sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body.
The current wave of African artists and creatives is pioneered by creative inspiration that is simply not possible in the West. With inspiration in every corner no matter how hard they try, the West will never match the level of talent that the continent of Africa possesses.
La Sape is properly known as Les Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People in English. Sapeurism is a subculture well known within the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and one that is quickly starting to spread throughout other countries. Sapeurs have already established influencers inspiring international artists such as Solange Knowles and Outkast
A little history on Sapeurism
Born in the poverty of the Congo, Les Sapeurs consider themselves to be the best-dressed and best-behaved gentlemen on the planet. They devote most of their income to purchasing fine clothing and accessories, believing they improve the morale of their neighbourhoods by setting an example of couture and courtesy.
Their adoption of the classic menswear suit symbolises a break with the country’s colonial past, when they were forced to wear Mao-style tunics. Sapologie today serves as both a political statement, as well as something close to a religion, inspiring creativity in all those fortunate enough to witness it. Suave suits, colourful bow ties, scarves: this is a subculture that has been passed on from generation to generation and is inspiring the world of fashion in more ways than one. Today a new generation of Congolese – emigrants known as ‘milikiste’ – are continuing the movement across Europe.
If you have any Congolese friends then you know that they themselves or their families dress to IMPRESS no matter where they go, and for me, I have always wondered why that was. Every Congolese person I know loves designer brands and they love to “drip” and today I finally know why. It is part of their culture, their history and I think it is so beautiful that this is the way that they express their freedom.
The Extravagant Life of a Sapeur
In everyday terms, these men believe that clothing is a vehicle to challenge limitations and celebrate difference. Regardless of the level of poverty found in Kinshasa and Brazzaville, Sapeurs live an expensive and extravagant lifestyle, one that most of us could only ever dream of, from buying clothes from iconic brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Cartier or Givenchy, the Sapeurs live a lavish life.
Most of these luxury brands are original but many Sapeurs claim that the majority of their wardrobes are simply a collection of brand lookalikes purchased from local thrift stores known as ‘Sola’, a Lingala word that means “second hand”.
Although most of the men and women involved in this fashion cult have regular day jobs, over the weekends they are most likely to be found at local events and, as strange as it may sound, can also be spotted at funerals. These have become the usual places to spot Sapeurs; strolling through local neighbourhoods evoking excitement and adoration from onlookers, wearing bright-coloured suits, bow ties, monocles, suspenders, sunglasses, silky shirts and colourful hats. Life as a Sapeur is nothing but extravagant fashion choices.
What inspires the Sapeurs style?
Sapeurs claim that they get inspiration for their style from European high-fashion menswear brands. Outfits are chosen based on the harmony of colour. Primary colours are matched with primary colours and the same applies to secondary and tertiary colours. This portrays a concordance or consistency in elegance.