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