21 Jul The African Gentleman: Modern Day Sapeur
“Sapeurs, comes from the French slang se saper, meaning to dress with class, but also from the acronym of their social group: La Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (the Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant Persons).”
In the past two years I’ve been studying a number of classic adherent styles on the African continent and since The African Gentlemen Enterprise specializes in African print design and style it would only be sensible to have researched surrounding influences and styles to personify my own vision and unify the African perspective as a whole.
I stumbled upon very interesting gentlemen. The prominent “Sapeurs” of Congo. Upon learning more about them, I was both amazed and intrigued by their message of hope that they represent by using their clothes as a weapon to express a sophisticated side of Africa in paradox to the environment that they live in. In recollection of their story which entails dressing extravagantly in contrast to an environment that was stricken by poverty as a result of civil war, I was inspired to learn more about their unique approach to life.
As a brand, one may consider The African Gentleman Enterprise as modern day Sapeurs in the sense that what colonialism tried to embed on the mind set of our people through European style fashion and culture is the same medium we can use to find liberation of expression and hope. Going beyond the ‘fashion statement’ of material and fabric, the freedom to be is the true symbolic treasure we take from Les Sapeurs. To be comfortable not only in one’s skin but also in one’s native clothing is the ultimate celebration of combating colonial superiority.
“Fais comme chez toi”
Considering the vibrant kaleidoscope of material and texture culminated with a colourful and fresh perspective on the African continent, our brand extends beyond clothing and fashion, to a mind set and lifestyle of economic liberation that will fuel an industry of ideas. The aim of La Sape was intended to create hope in a seemingly bleak society. Make yourself at home!
However, there are also stark contrasts in lifestyles and beliefs between the two creatives. As a brand, The African Gentleman Enterprise shares the same views of intention as La Sape; which is to bring hope to one’s community through the expression of their clothing, attitude and behaviour. On the other hand, the arguably obsessive desire to support the sub culture’s lifestyle at the expense of providing food for one’s self or investing in the education for a child’s fees just to look flashy is a belief we would immediately shun. I do however, believe in using what one has and making the best out of it regardless of the price tag.
“I want to show that a joyful Africa exists!” – Badouin Mouanda
Although, one may argue that dressing in suits or elegant wear moves us, Africans, away from traditionalism and the pride of our own native clothing and heritage. This was also something I studied and began to ponder upon. But perhaps by fusing the smartness of the so called “dandies” of early colonialism days with the originality of our cultural style we may find a balance. The modern day illustration of this can be seen in “chitenge swag” where designers take chitenge material and tailor it into formal wear such as blazers and formal shirts and trousers. Hence preserving the authenticity of our culture in our “swag”.
“A Sign of Better Things”
As I learned more in the several articles I read on Les Sapeurs, which also detailed the revival of La Sape in Congo by the legendary musician Papa Wemba, who unfortunately passed away in April 2016, MHSRIP. I particularly enjoyed the thought provoking questions the article presented and made me think about what it means to be The African Gentleman from all angles and not just from the viewpoint of sophistication but also from the standpoint of originality and authenticity in a modern and ever developing Africa.