Book: Gentlemen of Bacongo

Jill Krueger

The particular, peculiar chic of the Congo’s Brazzaville sapeurs, whose sartorial style is anything but impoverished.

Walking the dirt roads of Bacongo (a district of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo), members of the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes, or SAPE, sport sharply tailored suits, striped fedoras, and crocodile Westons. Daniele Tamagni’s new book of photographs, Gentlemen of Bacongo (Trolley), highlights the paradoxical nature of these dandies, known as sapeurs, who dress opulently but live in poverty. Yet there is more to the sapeur way of life than just conspicuous consumption: Citizens of the strife-ridden Congo, they have renounced tribalism and violence. And their style, which stems from the fashions of former French rulers, is more a fierce reappropriation of this colonial legacy than a simple homage. In fact, the original grand sapeur, anticolonialist André Grenard Matsoua, was famously wearing a white three-button suit when he was arrested by the authorities in 1933. $40;