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Tres Chic, Congo!

Not only Africa's best dance music, lingala, is said to come from Congo but also the smartest looking men. A new photo book traces the social fashion movement sapeurs in its natural environment.

Men, old and young, wearing second-hand or even newly bought Gucci suits in slum dwellings. Grim looking teenagers in Scottich kilts. Award-winning London photographer Tariq Zaidi is the latest in a long line of artists to document a unique African sub-culture.

The world famous dandy frenzy emerged in Congo (in both the Democratic Republic and Brazzaville Congo) decades ago, long before the term cultural appropriation was even heard of. The term "La Sape - Societe ades Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes" translates to "Society of mood boosters and elegant people." The followers call themselves sapeur (male) or sapeuse (female). "Most work during the day as taxi drivers, tailors, gardeners but transform into casual dandies after hours," observed Zaidi. "They will often be cheered like rock stars, bringing some ease to a tough life." A fashion movement in one of Africa's poorest regions is a "surreal style statement," says Zaidi. With his photos he dissects it, not as an elitist copying of colonial style but a playful parody of cultural norms, a proud display of street creativity.

The Dandies of Africa

Some sapeurs save for years for a new outfit, while others are occasionally sponsored by international fashion designers. The movement is constantly evolving, Zaidi says. Popular Congolese singer Papa Wemba once summed it up simply: "The French invented the clothes, we made an art of it."

Photographer Tariq Zaidi has won many awards, among them several Pictures of the Year. He covers social issues, traditions and vulnerable groups around the world. "Sapeurs - Ladies and Gentlemen of the Congo", in English, 121 photos, Kehrer Publishing.

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