In a shanty town in Brazzaville, and in a country ravaged by civil war, poverty and suffering, there lives a group of otherworldly gentlemen. They are members of a spectacular subculture called le Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or le Sape for short. A revolutionary movement of the cloth, the men dress up to escape the abject poverty many live amongst and as a symbol of defiance against the political leaders that suppress them. The sapeurs don magnificent Italian or French made suits (Dior, Versace, Armani, and Yamamoto to name a few) and are dignified by their peers; many are even asked to appear at weddings, funerals, and celebrations to add a sense of glamour that is all but absent in Brazzaville. The sapeurs don’t stop at their beautiful suiting, they accessorize with bowler hats, white gloves, ascots, ties, pipes, canes and cigars. The only rule: preferably no more than three colors in an ensemble.
Photographer Francesco Giusti gives us a glimpse into this Congolese tradition. The subculture was also recently featured in one of my favorite music videos, “Losing You” by Solange. Her style seamlessly blends with her sapeur counterparts.