Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo

Tariq Zaidi, United Kingdom

La Sape, Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (Society of Ambiance Makers & Elegant People) is a fashion subculture in cities of Kinshasa (DRC) & Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo). Someone who follows La Sape is known as a Sapeur.

Most have ordinary day jobs as taxi-drivers, tailors and gardeners, but as soon as they clock off they transform themselves into debonair dandies. Sashaying through the streets they are treated like rock stars – turning heads, bringing joy, peace and ‘joie de vivre’ to their communities and defying their circumstances.

Traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women have recently begun donning designer suits and becoming ‘sapeuses’. La Sape is growing followers across central Africa with its exuberance and freedom of expression.

Discover more: Shortlist 2020