October 4, 2012

Gentlemen of Bacongo

(All photos by Daniele Tamagni from Gentleman of Bacongo)

Earlier today the new Solange video for her single Losing You was going around, so I had a quick peek and was immediately struck by the color, texture and fashion adorned by the men who make up much of the cast. Who are they? And where are they? I could see signs for tailor shops, but otherwise, they appeared to be in downtrodden conditions that reminded me of a few slums where I've photographed in the past. 

A bit of digging and a great article from Cool Hunting revealed that they are La Sapeur, a subculture of Congolese men, who, while living in the slums, dress in luxury goods, handmade suits and Dolce & Gabbana belts. Pink is sacred and flamboyance is encouraged. Their lifestyle was captured in a few-years-old book (that I'm surprised I hadn't heard of) called Gentleman of Bacongo by photographer Daniele Tamagni, who also investigates the "contradictions and paradoxes" of these outsized outfits, the odd clashing and combining of colonial and Congolese culture, and the intricate rules of dress. 

For instance, on the proper use of cigars: "even if you don't smoke you need to light it." 

On the use of colors: "only three colors may be combined in an outfit.

And, on the name: "...La Sape, short for Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes, or the Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People.

Just wow.