Based in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, Le Sape, the Society for the Advancement of Elegant People, seeks to add finesse to the daily lives of those around them by embodying courtesy, style, and flair.
Individual adherents of Le Sape are known as Sapeurs, and they seek to emulate the elegance of manners that was characteristic of the colonialist ‘dandies’ who influenced their culture primarily during the early 20th century. The term ‘dandy’, which refers to a man who is overly concerned with his own appearance, also evokes the imagery of 19th and early 20th century charm and manners.
2. Elite ‘Houseboys’
During the early years of colonialism, the French mission was to ‘civilize’ the uncouth locals. Accordingly, they purchased the loyalty of African chiefs with second-hand European clothing, which was then also used to pay ‘houseboys.’ These ‘houseboys’ were the first to embrace modern European society, and they spent much of their wages further upgrading their wardrobes with the latest fashions from Paris.
3. Political Resistance
L’Amicale, an anti-colonialist movement based in France, was founded in 1926 by Andre Matsoua, a Congolese revolutionary. Matsoua’s views gained popularity with Congolese intellectuals, and they co-opted his views and styles in what blossomed into a sub-culture based on style, manners, and political resistance. The look subsequently took on an element of the style of an English gentleman, but we’ll leave the political interpretation of that shift to those more knowledgable of the matter.
4. Social Standing
The political fortunes of Le Sape youth have swung from one end of the pendulum to the other and back again since the founding of the movement. Initially representing the elite of society, Sapeurs were shunned in the early 1980s and efforts were made to bar them from public spaces. Their standing has since taken a turn for the better and they are recognized as an important part of Congolese cultural life.
Guinness’s recent ad campaign featuring Sapeurs has garnered heaps of media attention. Contrasting the hardship of daily life with the cultured panache of the Sapeurs, the ads showcase the transformation of Congolese men as they doff their grimy and unimaginative work clothes in favor of dapper Le Sape attire.