Sapologie of Congos Sapeurs
Guiness advertising campaign Made of More celebrates people with character. This positive theme makes for successful and uplifting communication. Its previous video release, the Wheelchair Basketball Advert published in September 2013 went viral and garnered 5.5 million views in as many months.
The latest instalment of the campaign is as successful and altogether more fashionable; it features the Sapeurs of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo, The advertising video Sapeurs is accompanied by a short documentary The men Inside the Suits.
In an excellent articles published by the Wall Street Journal in September 2011, Tom Downey calls the Sapeurs The Beau Brummels of Brazzaville. “They’re Congolese everymen—taxi drivers, carpenters, gravediggers—assembled here on this sunny Sunday afternoon because they’re what locals call Sapeurs, men who believe in the uplifting, redeeming, beautifying effect of dressing well.” He describes their attire as “European-style suits tailored to fit, complemented by bold pocket squares and textured ties, accessorized with Holmesian pipes and elegant hats.”
Congo was colonised by Belgium and is today French speaking. Sapeurs are often members of La Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, known as La Sape. Commonly used in colloquial French la sape also means spiff dressing. The origin of the word is unclear.
It may have been invented by Christian Loubaki, known as l’enfant mystère who in the late 60s, worked for an aristocratic family in a chic quarter of Paris. Christian Loubaki enjoyed wearing high fashion hand-me-downs from his employers. Misinterpreting what was said of his style (“habille comme cela tu vas saper le moral de tes amis”), he is said to have associated the word sape with his dandy style. Christian Loubaki returned to Brazzaville in 1975, and opened in one of the oldest quarter of the city, his first fashion shop called La Saperie à Bacongo. This Sapologie requires style and expensive labels.
La SAPE is in fact strongly intertwined with Congolese colonial politics.
In his essay La Sape Exposed!: High Fashion among Lower-Class Congolese, Didier Gondola explains that early in the history of colonised Congo, young men adopted and aimed to better the sartorial style of their Belgium colonisers. This proud reaction often led them to spend most of their meagre resources on clothes. They literally went hungry in the name of fashion. In La sape, an article published in the Corps tabou issue of the magazine Internationale de l’imaginaire, Rémy Bazenguissa-Ganga explains that this early form of sapologie was referred to as la lute (the fight), a political stance adopted by Congolese revolutionary André Matsoua and later on by the country intellectuals.
The 1950s saw the rise of a Congolese rumba scene in Kinshasha and Brazzaville, a music strongly associated with La Sape and best represented by the musician Papa Wemba. Between 1965 and 1997, the then indipendent Democratic Republic of the Congo was ruled by Mobutu Sese Seko. To re-establish a sense of national identity and mark a break with his country’s colonial past, Mobutu proscribed the wear of western apparel, in particular suit, shirt, and tie. The country leader turned out to be a corrupt man and a despot who amassed a vast personal fortune. La Sape, the wear of suit, shirt, and tie became an expression of civil disobedience to his regime. La Societé des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes re-interpreted an historical form of resistance.
With its campaign, Guiness presents a simplified and uplifting version of this sartorial subculture. The video Sapeurs was in fact shot in Durban, South Africa, directed by Nicolai Fuglsig and produced by MJZ. The accompanying documentary was shot in Brazzaville, directed by Hector Mediavilla and produced by Stillking.
Guiness now gives African filmmakers the opportunity to create the next African Guinness TV Ad with the “Made of More” contest run by Mofilm. This contest is open to any African citizen or resident. The winning spot will become the Guinness TV ad in 2014 and showcased globally.