Meet the black dandies of Paris, the Sapeurs

You can spot them on the streets of Paris or at fashion events in London, Milan, Brussels or Dubai. Most are black African men wearing stylish outfits designed and chosen to draw attention. Known as “Sapeurs” – the name comes from the Society for Ambience and Elegance (Sape) and from the French slang “se saper”, “to dress up” – these figures are characterised by their unusual and baroque fashion style.

Chardel Matsanga, one in all the emblematic figures of the “Sapeur” movement. The shiny colours and details resembling a watch, gloves, umbrella and glasses bring the look to life.

Origin and evolution

Research by ethnologists and historians points out that the movement originated in Central Africa, probably within the port of Bacongo, the river that separates the 2 Congos, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo Republic, north of the river) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). , south side). The subculture has begun 1919-1920, and within the Nineteen Fifties it gained momentum and took off. The first Congolese emigrants (including former infantrymen in Europe) returned home, bringing with them products considered luxurious or ceremonial – branded items, accessories, clothing and shoes.

At this point, the primary parades and competitions began across the two capitals of the Congo, Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Based on the identical principle as dance battles, Sapeurs show, show and prove their skills and skills – the gestures and voice, the gait and the look. In order to face out from the gang, not only stunning clothing but additionally verbal and visual communication are essential. So crowds gathered throughout the 2 cities to look at the tournaments and cheer these “black aesthetes” – living artworks who were higher dressed than the colonial authorities themselves.

In the Seventies, Congolese families began sending their children to France to check, and lots of brought their stylish clothing with them. In Europe, the Sape movement received recent impetus from young people resembling singers and composers Aurlus Mabelethe jeweler Djo BallardParisian pioneer Ricley Loubaky or designer Jocelyn Armel, aka “The Bachelor”, Ben Moukachaand musicians Father of the homealso often known as the “King of Rumba Rock”.

Jocelyn Armel within the Paris metro on an peculiar day. The 'Sape', it's my on a regular basis life, from Monday to Monday.”

From 1984 to 1985 the movement became further established in France and the Parisian Maison des Étudiants de Congolais (Congolese Student House) became the cradle of Sape. Located in town's third arrondissement, the MEC was the middle of activity for the scholars living there in addition to business people from Brazzaville and Kinshasa. Pioneers like Djo Balard, Ben Moukacha, Jocelyn Armel and Nono Ngando (all of whom we met through the course of this research) all pointed to the MEC because the official start line for authentic sape. Balard explains:

“The MEC is the Mecca of the Sapeurs. Pretty much everything started there. It was a party with always competitive moments, but in good spirits and sape. You could see the silhouettes all dressed up. The colors and brands all sang. It was an unforgettable sight. At the MEC the rule was to dress well, shout it, enjoy it and even swear by it.”

A movement with media coverage

Almost in every single place in Africa and in major European capitals, people were talking about this recent group of chic and passionate Africans who frequented one of the best fashion boutiques. In just a number of years, the Sape movement reached the world and made a reputation for itself in Europe and particularly in France. The Paris Sapeurs continued to create a stir to democratize their movement. The French director Thomas Gilou shot it within the mid-Eighties This was the primary “mainstream” cultural reference to the movement.

Ben Mukasha, one in all Sape's emblematic figures, takes part in a photograph shoot in Lille.
Provided by the writer

In 2010, stylist and designer Paul Smith a Sape collection, a tribute to the colourful and quirky sort of African sapeurs. During a visit to Paris in 2011, English photographer Martin Parr visited the Sapeurs and presented a photography exhibition there Goutte d'Or district this was reported extensively within the media. And in 2016 designer Christian Louboutin launched a men's shoe collection inspired by this model – a reference to the Sape movement in Lingala, a language spoken across much of Central Africa.

The colourful activism of the Sapeurs

Of course, clothing can go far beyond individual or collective expression and into the religious, symbolic or political realm. The aim of my research – which falls inside the field of postcolonial studies and subaltern studies (the study of individuals, minorities or groups which are ignored, underestimated or dominated by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or religion) – is it explore the meaning and impact of black sapeurs' ostentatious consumption of luxury clothing.

Sapeurs are usually not typical customers for luxury goods. Instead, they’re in search of social recognition and actively adopt brands. With its different appreciation, luxury is used as a reference point for the group to which it belongs.

The movement's distinctive style relies on a highly codified use of accessories, colours and patterns, creating an original outfit that goes beyond the classic Western model. There is an excess of accessories: shoes, scarves, belts, watches, glasses, hats, cosmetics and perfumes. This abundance is meant to underline the Sapeur's message: it's about “hitting hard” – in other words, leaving a powerful impression within the competitive environment. Personal creativity, a pinch of humor and subtle provocation are emphasized.

The Sapeurs through the filming of Jean Pascal Zadi.
Provided by the writer

The Sapeur desires to signal his presence to others and be noticed through the abundance of colours and accessories, thereby becoming an actor in social theater. With his unique clothing he seized the fitting to please himself and in addition to be visible, to exist and to please.

Clothes filled with symbols

Clothing serves a spread of functions: practical, utilitarian, institutional, symbolic and aesthetic. For the Sapeurs, it allows them to make a political statement – ​​one which argues for dignity. Sape is the precise opposite of the humiliation that comes with poverty and customers who could also be made to feel like they don’t have any right to enter a luxury clothing store.

The colonial past also plays a job on this need for reparation and justice. In African history, the khaki uniform and colonial helmet have long represented white political and military power. With the Sape movement, the image of power is reversed and the dazzling suit, hat, cigar and cane make it possible to symbolically overcome the humiliation of colonial rule – and at the identical time remind us that it happened.

Finally, there may be one very vital term on this planet of Sapeurs, and that’s . They placed on a show and aim to draw crowds to advertise socializing. The colourful and splendid clothing, the flow of words (like a type of trance), the music and movements, and the electrical atmosphere evoke collective admiration. This arouses the admiration of his colleagues and thus confirms the sapeur's status.

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