The Gentlemen of Bakongo.

     Ok, am not going to lie. When i first saw this picture, I thought it was a fluke of some sort. I thought some silly guy looking for attention had somehow luckily managed to put together an outfit that made some sense, but after a bit of investigation……well, I was very surprised at my findings.

     I learned about  a  new photo-book by Daniele Tamagni exploring the phenomenon of the African sapeurs, a clique of extraordinarily dressed dandies from the Congo. In the midst of war and abject poverty, these men dress in tailored suits, silk ties, and immaculate footwear.

     The Sapeurs (the Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance) fantasise about walking the streets of Paris or Brussels – places most can only dream of visiting – returning to Brazzaville as sartorial aristocrats of ultimate elegance. They emerged from the chaos of the Mobutu reign, their distinctive look a way of rebelling against his dictatorial decree that everyone should dress in traditional African costume. The Sape is a religion of sorts, a mini-state that provides its own social strata of presidents, ministers and acolytes. And if they don’t know how to tie a bow tie, they’ll know a man who does. Take Salvador Hassane, 29, who works for a mobile phone company as well as being leader of the Piccadilly Group, one of the most extravagant Sapeur subsects. He is a self-professed “style consultant”, advising aspiring young Saps on the most suitable clothes for them, and boutiques and tailors they might like (at a price, of course).

      As with all dress, the Sapeur style is a form of self-aggrandisement, the cult of appearance. To them, to be well-dressed is to be successful, which is not just the essence of bling, it is a cri de coeur. But they do look extraordinary. They wouldn’t look out of place strolling down Savile Row, resplendent in their multicoloured finery, carrying canes and cigars, putting one white buckskin loafer in front of the other and smiling as though they haven’t a care in the world.

Respected and admired in their communities, today’s sapeurs see themselves as artists. Each one has his own repertoire of gestures that distinguishes him from the others. They are also after their own great dream: to travel to Paris and to return to Bacongo as lords of elegance. Designer brands of suits and accessories are of the utmost importance to Sapeurs – Pierre Cardin, Roberto Cavalli, Dior, Fendi, Gaultier, Gucci, Issey Miyake, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Yohji Yamamoto are their patron saints. Unlike some US hip-hop gangs who are dressed in similar fine threads, there is no bloodshed here, here your clothes do all the fighting for you, otherwise you are not fit to be called a Sapeur.

     Even Paul Smith was inspired enough by the Gentlemen of Bacongo to reflect their style in his womens 2010 collection.


3 Responses to “The Gentlemen of Bakongo.”

  1. nice one. It’s funny how far they have come. hnopeully we will find as non violent nigerian creww as well that can re define fashion

  2. Thank You, Keep up the Great work 🙂

  3. I’m bringing this fight to London. New Dandyism is well overdue an entrance to the mainstream.

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