SAPE stands for “Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes” which translates as the society of atmosphere setters and elegant people. Its members put fashion above all the other issues a developing country like Congo is facing right now.
The origins of La SAPE can be traced back to when the first French colonists arrived in the area. They brought with them their famous fashion sense and inspired the locals who regarded the white man as far more elegant and educated than they were. In 1922 Andre Bernard Matsoua was the first local who traveled to Paris and came back dressed as a true French gentleman.
Since that time, members of “La Societe des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes” have been trying to get their hands on the newest, most expensive pieces of designer clothes that appear in Europe. There are some luxury shops in Brazzaville and Kinshasa, but most “sapeurs” prefer to get them directly from the Old Continent. This is actually every member’s dream, to travel to Paris and get their hands on killer wardrobes at the source.
Sapeurs spend thousands of dollars on suits, shirts, shoes and accessories, but this doesn’t mean they’re rich. In a country where the average salary is somewhere around $300/month, most of these guys don’t even have a job. Most of them lend their clothes for a living (renting a designer suit costs about $25/day), while those who travel to Europe bring the latest designer labels and sell them for a small profit.
All members of La SAPE have unique styles and crazy names like Parfait le Bodeur, Serge le Temoin de Playboy, Baleine Sarkozy or Christian Dior. They live for fashion and feed off the attention they get when parading on the dusty streets of Brazzaville. But while most look up to them and dream of being in their shoes, there are those that accuse them of betraying their heritage and encouraging others to do the same.