Classy…Yes

12/16/2009

Photographer Daniele Tamagni’s new book Gentlemen of Bacongo captures the fascinating subculture of the Congo in which men (and a few women) dress in designer and handmade suits and other luxury items. The movement, called Le Sape, combines French styles from their colonial roots and the individual’s (often flamboyant) style. Le Sapeurs, as they’re called, wear pink suits and D&G belts while living in the slums of this coastal African region.

In interviews with some notable sapeurs, Tamagni unearths the complex and varied rules and standards of Le Sape, short for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People. Sapeur Michel comments on the strange combination of poverty and fashion, “A Congolese sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body.”

The sapeurs engage the extremes between classes while injecting their individual perspectives into the conversation, establishing an identity within the larger social narrative they’ve helped construct.

Tamagni’s photographs capture the style, the “contradictions and paradoxes” and tight-knit social networks of the Sapeurs. He highlights the proper use of cigars—”even if you don’t smoke you need to light it”—the strict use of color (only three colors may be combined in an outfit), and the deep spiritual and moral roots of Le Sape. “When the sapeur expresses himself through the harmony of his clothes, he is returning his admiration to God.”

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