“Let’s drop the weapons, let us work and dress elegantly”
Yamamoto, Yves Saint Laurent, Kenzo, Jean Paul Gauthier without forgetting Weston and other expensive labels… They are known to be suited only by the best. Coming from all walk of life les sapeurs are the African dandies !
The movement really took off in the 60’s after the independence, when Congolese students in Paris came back to their home country wearing the latest Western fashion trends.
It all started during the early years of colonialism in Africa particularly in central Africa in the Congo Brazzaville and Kinshasa. The French decided to bring extravagant second hand clothes to civilize and dress naked African people. However, African servants were the first to adopt European fashion given clothing as compensation instead of money. Young Congolese men adapted European style to recreate their own dandy fashion! It’s now a colorful, bold, bright African –influenced style, wearing it better than his European master. In 1922, Andre Matsoua, a Congolese influential political and religious figure came back from Paris elegantly dressed with French clothing, making him the “Grand sapeur”
But, what is la sape ?
SAPE is an acronyme for “société des ambianceurs et des personnes élégantes “in English « The Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People. » La sape is a social movement that started in Congo Brazzavile. The people following the movement are called « Sapeur ». Originally, the word sape meant to undermine. The word got taken out of context ; when Christian Loubaki a handy man who did not how to read or write French misunderstood his French employer.
In 1975, his employer told him “Tel que tu t’es habillé tu vas saper le moral de tes amis.” “As you’re dressed you are going to undermine the morale of your friends.” He understood the word sape as attire. A year later, when he came back to Congo he told everyone that « il etait le mieux sapé » « He was the best dressed » without knowing the definition of the word. Congolese people adopted this word and started using it as how we know it today.
« Sapeur type Complete » and « Sapeur Playboy»
The complete type have Christian Loubaki as a reference who’s known for his bourgeois dandyism of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A strong sense for fashion and harmony as far as brands and colors. The respect of the rule of 3 (tricology), which is no more than 3 colors and the love for classic costumes. Basically, being the equivalent of an English Dandy.
Sapeur playboy type likes to be seen. He wants to be moving art. His reference is late Mamadou who was part of the League of Ambianceurs of Elegant People. The style is more relaxed, but yet the sapeur is still wearing very famous and expensive brand of jeans, shirt, shorts…
Peace, respect, and honesty
“Le sapeur” is a non-violent person. It’s a philosophy based on respect, peace, honor and honesty. He must be well groomed, well educated, and his behaviour and demeanor has to be inspiring. Famous Congolese singer, Papa Wemba, known as the King of the sape showed resistance against Mobutu’s severe regime. His rebellion became a symbolic gesture putting these principles in the service of political ideal. President Mobutu Sese Seko, who shortly after independence, ordered the return to traditions. Wemba has used the extravagant clothing culture of undermining to defy the strict dress code imposed by the government, which prohibited the European and Western fashion.
Although among Congolese some think it is ridiculous to dress with expensive clothes to hide poverty; the trend has inspired many around the world!
“Captivated by the snobbery and refined elegance of the Coast Men’s attire, Congolese houseboys spurned their masters’ secondhand clothes and became unremitting consumers and fervent connoisseurs, spending their meager wages extravagantly to acquire the latest fashions from Paris.” Didier Gondola