Meet Congo-Brazzaville’s Best Dressed Men

A sapeur named Allureux decides to put on his maroon socks because they match with his elbow tie.

A new ad campaign from the beer brand Guinness features the well-dressed Sapeurs of Congo-Brazzaville.  The men come from all walks of life, from policemen to artists.  They hold themselves to a high ethical standard and even higher fashion standards.

And they look pretty darn good.

A sapeur named Allureux decides to put on his maroon socks because they match with his elbow tie.
A sapeur named Allureux decides to put on his maroon socks because they match with his elbow tie.
Hector Mediavilla

Sapeur is derived from the group’s name, the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People) aka SAPE. The style was adopted from the French, who colonized the the country in the 20th century. Men started to copy the well dressed Parisians who visited the country and from their own visits to France.

They group garnered some recent attention from NPR and the Wall Street Journal. Photographer Hector Mediavilla has been photographing Saupers for more than a decade. He described them to NPR:

“For some [sapeurs] it is an obsession,” says Mediavilla, who says the men he met work as electricians, in small shops or as marketing agents for fashion boutiques — hardly professions that support haute couture. “But they can also get [things]secondhand or buy from a friend, because not everyone is ready to spend such an amount of money on their clothes.”

But it’s not all about the conspicuous consumerism.

“Creativity is very important,” says Mediavilla. “It’s not only about spending a lot of money on the clothes, but also the way they speak, the way they move. … It’s a way of presenting their lives and being somebody in a society that doesn’t give you many opportunities. … It’s about [being]confident in oneself despite the circumstances.”

A short documentary on the Sapeurs featured in the Guinness advertisement was released alongside the ad. Viewers meet the men featured and learn a bit about their stories. One describes how he buried all of his nicest clothes when fighting broke out in the Congo. Unfortunately, his clothes did not survive the time underground.

Share.

About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.