Ever since Solange Knowles featured the sapeurs—Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People)—in one of her music videos, I’ve been entranced. I did a minor in Postcolonial Studies in college, but rarely is there a colonial vestige as sartorially interesting as the style of the sapeurs. I love that Guinness not only used them in an ad, with the feel-good message that we dictate our fates by our attitudes, but also made a mini documentary about the sapeurs themselves.
While this kind of opulent dressing is reserved for the upper class in some countries, the sapeurs are Congolese everymen. In a war-ravaged country, these men are reinventing the art of being a gentleman—it’s not just about dressing well, but about behaving with civility, foregoing aggression, and presenting a composed demeanor in the face of extremities. NPR had an article about the sapeurs in the spring of last year. From it, one quote in particular stood out to me:
But it’s not all about the conspicuous consumerism. “Creativity is very important,” says [Spanish photographer Hector] 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.”
So thanks, Guinness, for sharing the sapeurs story!