If we ask Sir Paul Smith, which city thinks its capital of style will tell us that it is Bacongo.
Bacongo is located on the outskirts of Congo and is a “suburb” of Brazzaville. How, however, a city with its tallest buildings is a container, its roads are dirt roads and the life expectancy for men is 47 years can claim this title?
Sir Paul Smith explains to us: Bacongo is the city that was born in Sapeur. The word Sapeur comes out of the acronym S.A.P.E. Societe de Ambianceurs et de Personnes Elegantes, which in free translation means “a movement to improve people with elegance” or more simply “a society of elegant people”.
Sapeurs live in absolute poverty, yet their appearance is impeccable. They use style as a symbolic move against impoverishment and poverty.
In the world of utter poverty that Sapeur is living, the acquisition of an impeccable granadrum is a real feat, as it is also a feat to keep it clean.
It is difficult to explain how this culture, which has its origins in the 19th century, at the time of the Dandies, began. Is it a remnant of the tough colonial policy of the Belgians or an attempt by very poor people to “trick” themselves into the difficult environment they live in? Maybe a little of both.
Sapeurs do not have much, they work hard, they do little and they all spend it on a materialistic exaggeration, their outward appearance.
It sounds “shallow,” but it’s not the absolute truth, because Sapeur is more than what they are projecting out. Pretty conservative, Christians, and abstaining from drugs.
They are presented to the world as “ideal” people would like to be. A society of well-dressed gentle gentlemen.
Exaggeration may be the dominant element in their outfit, but even there are strict rules.
Sapeur loves bright colors, but they will never wear more than three together. Their socks have a specific height and the “tears” in their jacket are always 32cm.
The shirts should always be sewn and never ready, many of them leaving the “bottom” double cuff of their shirt unbuttoned, a sprezzatura way, to emphasize that the shirt is bespoke.
The “archbishop” of Sapeur is the musician Papa Wemba, a controversial personality that resembles George Mangga and James Brown.
We met them for the first time in 2009 from Danielle Tamagni’s photo album, released by the Trolley publications. The book was predicted by Sir Paul Smith.