09 July 2010

Congo Dandies: The Religion of the Cloth

Paradise is a Fabulous Suit

For the Congolese Sapeurs, haute couture isn't just an abiding passion, it's a religion.

By Anna Weinberg
Photos by Héctor Mediavilla Sabaté

Their canon of saints reads: Pierre Cardin, Roberto Cavalli, Dior, Fendi, Ferré, Gaultier, Gucci, Jourdan, Miyake, Prada, Saint Laurent, Versace, Yamamoto. A typical ballad runs: “Listen my love. On our wedding day/The label will be Torrente/The label will be Giorgio Armani/The label will be Daniel Hechter/The label for the shoes will be J. M. Weston.” Brussels, their shopping mecca, is referred to in Congolese as Lola, meaning paradise.

These are sapeurs, acolytes of a 25-year-old movement called la SAPE—La Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (aka Kitendi, the religion of the cloth)-—that revolves around the possession of the most expensive, most luxurious, most extravagant fashion in the world. Followers of SAPE wear $10,000 jackets and $500 shoes, but these mostly young Congolese men otherwise barely eke out a living in the rubble of Kinshasa and Brazzaville or the ghettos of Paris and Brussels, washing dishes or washing bodies, and sometimes selling their own.


Thanks to D. in Dublin


Tabitha said...

Fascinating, indeed no man lives by bread alone.

ADG said...

This is rich. Barima did a post similar recently....


Michael said...

I'm not totally sure I agree with this. But if makes them feel destitute...

Cracked wrote about them as well: