– Effortless Savoir Faire: Guinness Features Congolese Elegance In Its New Ad Campaign –
“Congolese dandies” also known as Les Sapeurs are the muse of Italian photographer Daniele Tamagni – he was so enthralled with their ostentatious use of color and commitment to elegance that he made them the subject of his book, “The Importance of Being Elegant.” These stylish African men have been featured in Solange Knowles music video ‘Losing You’, and are now making a special appearance in the Guinness Europe advertising campaign.
The history of Les Sapeurs is rooted in French colonization of Congo and the glorification of the Parisian lifestyle; these men stand out in world deeply enmeshed in abject poverty. La Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants (The Society for the Advancement of People of Elegance) is a subculture of Congolese dandy men clad in suits by Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier, Armani as well as Japanese labels such Kenzo and Yamamoto; they strut the streets of Brazzaville with a certain je ne sais quoi. When it comes to shoes, only the likes of exclusive French label Weston and British label Church’s will do. No knock-offs allowed! That is tantamount to blasphemy. These men are style gods and their style has spilled over into female fashions and quite a few runways, i.e. Paul Smith’s Spring 2010 line.
The Guinness commercial features hard working men who later transform themselves into vibrant style icons of the local nightlife. Though the ad was filmed in South Africa, just like Solange’s video, with the involvement of professional stylists, it is clear from the related behind-the-scenes video that it captures the essence of Sapeur life.
“Our new GUINNESS campaign features the ‘Sapeurs’, (society of elegant persons of the Congo’), a group of humble and refined people from Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo. Their life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity. This is demonstrated through their love of stylish dressing. The ‘Sapeurs’ paint with colours, textures and patterns, but it is not the fabric or cost of the suit that counts, it is the worth of the man inside it. The Sapeurs show us that whilst in life you cannot always choose your circumstances, you can always choose who you are.”
“These well-dressed gentlemen aren’t African big men slapping each other on the back to celebrate just-consummated deals,” the Wall Street Journal wrote back in 2011. “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.”
“They have a simple philosophy: to defy circumstance and live with joie de vivre,” explains the narrator in Guinness’s “Sapeurs: a Short Documentary.” According to Guinness Europe, “Their bold choice to live an unexpected lifestyle is a source of celebrated originality and positivity. Their life is not defined by occupation or wealth, but by respect, a moral code and an inspirational display of flair and creativity. The Sapeurs show us that whilst in life you cannot always choose your circumstances, you can always choose who you are.”
In 1922, the first Grand Sapeur, G.A. Matsoua, was the first Congolese man to return from Paris dressed entirely in French clothes. It is not entirely clear when and where exactly the SAPE movement started but it was heavily promoted by pioneer soukous musician, Papa Wemba, who in the 1970s began upholding the Sapeur culture as a set of moral codes with heavy emphasis on high standards of personal cleanliness, hygiene and smart dress among Congolese youths regardless of societal differences. This moral code, however, also had a political motive. Papa Wemba initially introduced the culture as a challenge to the strict dress codes that were imposed by the first regime after colonial independence; the Mobutu Sese Seko government banned all European and Western styles of imported clothing in favour of a return to traditional African clothing. Papa Wemba challenged these strict dress codes by insisting that it should be a pleasure rather than a crime to wear clothes from Paris and by setting an example for impressionable young men. Today the Sapeurs culture is deeply embedded in Congolese culture; walk any street in Kinshasa and you’ll find gentlemen with impeccable personal style and flamboyant expensive wardrobes. And now thanks to Guinness, the world gets to take a peek into their lifestyle.