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Sapeurs of the Congo


These images were made in the streets of the two capital cities Congo Kinshasa & Congo Brazzaville. The series is about people who are part of a fashion subculture in Congo called La Sape - Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Ambiance-Makers & Elegant People).


Its followers are known as "sapeurs" or "sapeuses" for women. Most have ordinary day jobs as taxi-drivers, tailors and gardeners, but as soon as they clock off they transform themselves into debonair dandies. Sashaying through the streets they are treated like rock stars – turning heads, bringing ‘joie de vivre’ to their communities and defying their circumstances. Traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women and their children have recently begun donning designer suits.


As Papa Wemba (1949–2016, Congolese singer and fashion icon who popularised Sape) once said: “White people invented the clothes, but we (Africans) make an art of it.”