Paris. Milan. London. Brazzaville?
Okay, so the Congolese capital is probably not going to become the world’s next fashion hotspot, but a new photo book called Gentlemen of Bacongo portrays a group of foppish Congolese men known as sapeurs who have been donning the hippest European duds for decades– right in the heart of the Congo.
Daniele Tamagni, who wrote and took photographs for the book, says that the sapeurs are celebrities in their home country, and are often asked to appear at weddings and funerals. Says the New York Times‘ fashion blog:
[W]hile these men look fabulously natty and handsome with their pressed pocket squares and trim-fitting navy blazers, what makes these images so compelling is the way they stand out among such scenes of abject poverty – they pose in their Sunday best in weed-filled lots and peacock through the streets crowded with trash and half-dressed children.
Incidentally, this is somewhat reminiscent of a scene from Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, which also took place (mostly) in Sub-Saharan Africa. The chief accountant in the book, a white man who had been in the Belgian Congo for several years, insisted on keeping his clothing looking neat despite all the chaos and death surrounding him. The narrator recounts the main character Marlow’s feelings about the accountant:
“I respected the fellow. Yes; I respected his collars, his vast cuffs, his brushed hair… [I]n the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone.”