The Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes or sapeurs are a group of sartorially-inlined men from Brazzaville in the Congo. They use dress as an aspirational performance where clothing suggests status and wealth, standing in stark contrast to the abject poverty that surrounds them. Spanish documentary photographer Hector Mediavilla has captured the complex history of the sapeurs through an on-going series of beautifully vivid portraits.
“When the French arrived in Congo, the myth of the Parisian elegance was born among the youth of the Bakongo ethnic group, who were working for the colonisers. At that time, the white man was considered superior, someone showing better manners and elegance. In 1922, Grenard André Matsoua was the first Congolese ever to come back from Paris dressed as a genuine French. His arrival caused indescribable commotion and admiration among his fellow countrymen; he became known as the first Grand Sapeur. Having the respect and admiration of his community, today’s Sapeurs consider themselves artists. They add a touch of glamour to their humble environment through their refined manners and impeccable dressing styles. Each of them is unique showing a particular repertoire of gestures.”