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“WE ARE THE SAPEURS. The society of elegant persons of the Congo.”
And one of the strongest visual sells of an ‘African’ story I can recall seeing in a very, very long time. I’ll stop looping it eventually, and the patina will fade one day, I’m sure. But until that happens, or until someone writes the incredibly dexterous media studies critique of it that I don’t expect, it’ll get to stay as a favourite. And here are some reasons why.
It’s a real story.
Les Sapeurs really exist as an institution in both the Congo of Kinshasa and the Congo of Brazzaville. It’s not some hokey story involving lions, or invented tribal traditions. These people are really out there, really dress like this, and really do the whole organised fashion showdowns and being a gentleman thing. Even more inspiring is that there is truth to the idea of ‘La Sape’ as a political practice, which is about transcending one’s class, wealth, and everyday grind to become something else. To reach beyond circumstance.
It’s easy to make quick judgments about the tradition being an ostentatious display of fashion by people in circumstances where there are better ‘practical’ things to spend money on. But those critiques fall short. Many Sapeurs get their clothes made locally. Or trade and swap items to create new combinations out of what they have in common. The point is reinvention, not consumption. Don’t believe me? Watch the documentary. Oh yes, Guinness made a short additional documentary too. How about that?
…told using real people
The people in the video are actual, practicing Sapeurs, doing what they do. Yes, it was apparently filmed in South Africa, and Guinness supplied some of the wardrobe items to bling it up, but the people are real, and the combinations are real. In fact, the outfits in the video incorporated a mix of the stars’ own collections with the stuff Guinness had in the end.
…without a white narrator / hero / anyone
There are people who’ve said you can’t tell a compelling story out of Africa without putting a Westerner in it. Because otherwise nobody will care. Well here’s exactly 100 seconds of beautifully produced ‘neener neener’ to that argument. May it die in shame.
…by a company that kept to the sidelines.
Yes, it’s a Guinness ad. But it’s the story of the Sapeurs first. And that exquisitely light touch is something the inevitable stampede of followers would do well to remember. The video carries itself with dignity and kickass power because it’s not primarily an advert. Or if it is, it’s an advert for the Sapeurs first, and Guinness afterwards.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden need to burn my wardrobe, and look for an Irish pub.