All Articles
All Articles
CULTURE

Gentlemen of Bacongo

by Maggie York-Worth
on 03 December 2009
BacongoCoverUS.jpg

Photographer Daniele Tamagni's new book Gentlemen of Bacongo captures the fascinating subculture of the Congo in which men (and a few women) dress in designer and handmade suits and other luxury items. The movement, called Le Sape, combines French styles from their colonial roots and the individual's (often flamboyant) style. Le Sapeurs, as they're called, wear pink suits and D&G belts while living in the slums of this coastal African region.

In interviews with some notable sapeurs, Tamagni unearths the complex and varied rules and standards of Le Sape, short for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People. Sapeur Michel comments on the strange combination of poverty and fashion, "A Congolese sapeur is a happy man even if he does not eat, because wearing proper clothes feeds the soul and gives pleasure to the body."

The sapeurs engage the extremes between classes while injecting their individual perspectives into the conversation, establishing an identity within the larger social narrative they've helped construct.

SapeurTrash.jpg

This anthropological wonder combines interviews with Sapeurs along with a preface by menswear designer Paul Smith and Tamagni's anecdotes throughout. Focused on Sapeurs from Brazzaville and Kinshasa in Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tamagni's title comes from the Bakongo, an African tribe of people along the eastern shore of the continent. At just about seven-inches tall, the book's compact in size but the colors are bright, matching the outrê style of Le Sape. Tamagni outlines rules as they relate to color, as well as the proper styles of tie, the strong religious convictions and non-violent culture of Le Sape and myriad other facets of this phenomenon.

SapeurPinkGlasses.jpg

Tamagni's photographs capture the style, the “contradictions and paradoxes" and tight-knit social networks of the Sapeurs. He highlights the proper use of cigars—"even if you don't smoke you need to light it"—the strict use of color (only three colors may be combined in an outfit), and the deep spiritual and moral roots of Le Sape. "When the sapeur expresses himself through the harmony of his clothes, he is returning his admiration to God."

Of course, the poverty and political instability of the Congo makes the profound admiration and respect for Parisian fashion all the more distinct.

SapeurBlueCoat.jpg

Gentlemen of Bacongo also examines the strange merging of colonial and Congolese culture. Tamagni notes Sapeur Salvador Hassan “thinks that a real sapeur needs to be cultivated and speak fluently, but also have a solid moral ethic: that means beyond the appearance and vanity of smart, expensive clothing there is the moral nobility of the individual." Says Hassan, "The label is not important, what is important is to be able to dress depending on the taste of the individual."

Purchase Gentlemen of Bacongo from Amazon or Powell's.

This post brought to you by:

Aether Apparel

The CH25 is a showcase of creators and innovators from a broad range of disciplines who are currently working to drive the world forward.

Joshua Harker

Pushing the boundaries of sculpture with intricate 3D printing

Read More
My intent was to explore and depict the architecture of the imagination, to interpret and share forms evident in the mind’s eye

Tarren Wolfe

The next-generation appliance making kitchens greener—literally

Read More
Our goal is to provide food for everyone in the world, and the best place to start is in our very own community

Corinne Joachim Sanon

The chocolatier bringing social change to Haiti and bean-to-bar chocolate to the world

Read More
Seeing the poverty surrounding me and the lack of jobs and opportunity bothered me

Meredith Perry

How searching the Internet helped a 22-year-old invent wireless electricity

Read More
It’s not about where the information is, it’s about how you use the tools

Vanessa Newman

Redesigning pregnancy for the post-gender generation with Butchbaby & Co.

Read More
I want my customers to feel comfortable and unchanged, in that becoming pregnant didn't take away from or compromise their identity

Sarah Kunst

The entrepreneur single-handedly changing the landscape for women in tech

Read More
People who live on a planet that is half women but can never seem to find any when they need one, I have solved your problem

Roxie Darling

From un-shampoo to transgender identity, the NYC colorist boldly defining the next chapter of hair

Read More
Hair color is as much a science as it is a craft

Eelke Plasmeijer

The locally driven restaurant that’s upending Balinese food culture

Read More
We really try to keep things simple and let the produce do the talking

Pauline van Dongen

The Dutch designer blazing the wearable technology path

Read More
I’m fascinated by concepts of change, movement, energy and perception; since they are closely related to the way we experience the world

Lulu Mickelson

A civic leader bringing change to NYC through design

Read More
Human-centered design is one of the many tools that we can use to better engage the public

Jonathan Sparks

Reinventing electronic music by inventing multi-disciplinary instruments

Read More
Recorded music is becoming so cheap, so the value of music is now in live performance

Marcus Weller

Using technology to turn motorcycle helmet design on its head

Read More
I was taken aback both by the number of people that doubted it, and by the equally large number of people that got behind it

Alex Kalman

The tiny museum in Manhattan that’s redefining museums

Read More
The mission is to put this small simple and powerful tool into the hands of as many people as possible

Dan Barasch + James Ramsey

A quest to make the future brighter—underground

Read More
We both share a passion for groundbreaking technology and a shared love of New York

Kegan Schouwenburg

Revolutionizing orthotics through 3D-printed insoles

Read More
What orthotics do is they effectively change the geometry of what your alignment is like

George Arriola and Monohm

An heirloom electronic for the post-smartphone era

Read More
We agonized during the design process as all hyper-obsessed craftspeople should

LaToya Ruby Frazier

Documenting the slow, troubling change in Braddock, Pennsylvania

Read More
I am not a journalist, I am a conceptual documentary artist using my visual expression for building narratives that are unseen and unheard

Tal Danino

The bioengineer who’s programming DNA to fight cancer

Read More
[Manipulating genes] is very new, people are just learning how to program these organisms

Sabine Seymour

A future where smart clothes are as ubiquitous as zippers

Read More
In the future you will not buy a piece of 'functional' clothing without SoftSpot

Leopoldine Huyghues Despointes

The young filmmaker and non-profit founder who just wants people to follow their dreams

Read More
I feel confident and ready to accomplish so much more, the movement is on

Kathleen Supové

The NYC performance artist who’s radically reinventing the piano recital

Read More
I like pieces that are virtuosic, that show off the piano and what it can do, and are awe-inspiring

Melissa Kushner

Addressing the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi through microenterprise

Read More
Poverty is complicated, there is an increasing temptation and pressure in the development space to oversimplify things

Cynthia Breazeal

How an emotional, empathetic robot named Jibo stands to revolutionize communication

Read More
The thing that's so provocative about social robots is that it's fundamentally a community technology

Matt Kenyon

Fusing art and technology to disrupt concepts of corporate America

Read More
I want the work to live in the world and circulate, so it can generate more dialogue

Douglas Riboud + Justin Guilbert

How a mission to create great coconut water led to a whole new way of doing business

Read More
We’ve made a conscious decision to be as transparent and honest as we can, and let people decide for themselves
Loading More...