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Style as a Means of Evasion

Per-Anders Pettersson’s book “The Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People” puts the spotlight on SAPE, an endearing fashion subculture in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo.

“SAPE” means to dress with “elegance and style”, and walking the streets a Sapeur holds a responsibility towards members of the same brotherhood. “It is more than a way of dressing, more than a hobby and more than a means of earning money and respect”, writes the photographer.

A group of Sapeurs walk in the Mombele area in Kinshasa, DRC. SAPE is to dress with “elegance and style". Many Sapeurs are unemployed, poor, and live in harsh conditions in Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million people.

A Sapeur dressed in designer labels in the Mombele area in Kinshasa, DRC. For many, being a Sapeur means that they can escape their daily struggles and dress like fashionable Europeans.

Papa Griffe, a leader of a Sapeur group, displays a handmade suite with traditional Congolese motives in the Mombele area where he lives in Kinshasa, DRC.

A group of Sapeurs relax at a bar in Gombe cemetery during a yearly festival where Sapeurs pay tribute to Stervos Narcos, an original founder of SAPE in Kinshasa, DRC.

Many Sapeurs come from poor neighbourhoods, and most of them won’t have a chance to fly to the world fashion capitals whose influences they study. Dressing up with style, parading the streets, giving interviews on radio and television is a way to be visible, momentarily escaping from the hardships of daily life.

A Sapeur member of Leopards group sits in a backyard in Kinshasa, DRC. Many Sapeurs hustle to build up their expensive collections. Most of them could never afford to visit Paris, and usually relatives send or bring clothes back to Kinshasa.

Weston Mwene Kibambe, a Sapeur and a businessman, gets dressed in his living room as his children watch in Kinshasa, DRC.

Mzee Kindingu, a leader of the Leopards, a Sapeur group, shops for shoes in a second hand designer store in Matonge, Kinshasa, DRC.

A Sapeur wears two different shoes, to impress, in Kinshasa, DRC.

The book “The Society of Ambianceurs and Elegant People” is published by Dewi Lewis and available at the price of £28.00

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