Against a backdrop of negative headlines stand some of the world's most stylish men.
The Democratic Republic of Congo may be the last place on earth we would usually associate with fashion but assumers beware: men clad in colourful designer wear can be found upon closer inspection. These dapper gentlemen, known as sapeurs, are members of the Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, (the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People), a group of men from different ages and occupations with one thing in common; their love for clothes that show off their creativity and flair.
Dressed to the nines, these men, some from a long line of sapeurs, strut the dusty streets of Brazzaville leaving a trail of colour and many a fan in their wake. Their taste in attire has even caught the attention of Sir Paul Smith, one of Britain's most influential fashion designers. Smith has compared their style to that of the first dandies, stating:
“We have become so complacent in today’s world that everything is so readily available to us. The Sapeurs, however, have to work hard and dedicate time and money to afford and source these clothes. The passion they have for clothes is so unusual today, while the care and attention to detail given to everything they wear dates back to the time of the first dandies, when entire outfits would be carefully considered on a daily basis. Nowadays, we all seem to be in too much of a hurry to do this.”
What’s even more inspiring about the sapeurs is that they believe it is not just the cost of a man’s suit that counts, but also the worth of the man within it. The group’s mantra is that dressing elegantly isn't enough, their behaviour must reflect their dress—so a sapeur is at all times a gentleman; always respectful never vulgar, never violent.
Photographer, Tudor Clee, travelled to Congo with the purpose of satisfying his curiosity about this delightful group, and through a person who knew a person, who knew a person, who knew a sapeur, sheer persistence and some luck, he found a couple of gracious gentlemen from the flamboyant society. In this photo-essay, Tudor takes us through the streets of Brazzaville, alongside some of the most fashionable men on the planet.
Meet Nsossani Ely Fontaine (left) and Arnaud Obongono (right).