La Sape, which stands for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Ambiance Makers & Elegant People, is a fashion subculture in the cities of Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. Someone who follows La Sape is known as a “Sapeur,” or “Sapeuse” for a woman. These are a series of portraits of people who follow La Sape in various districts across the city of Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo.
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 to their communities and defying their circumstances.
Spending money on ornate umbrellas and silk socks might seem surreal when almost half the population of the Congo lives in poverty, but the Sape movement aims to do more than just lift the spirits. Over the decades it has functioned as a form of colonial resistance, social activism and peaceful protest.
Traditionally passed down through the male line, many Congolese women have recently begun donning designer suits and becoming Sapeuses. Le Sape is growing followers across central Africa through its exuberance and freedom of expression.