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Florence Hill and Bessie Dudley in Duke Ellington’s 1933 musical short, A Bundle of Blues
“Elegance Road” is a photo series by Belgian photographer Alexandre Van Enst that captures the non-conformist style and dandy attitudes of a Kinshasa-based fashion and lifestyle SAPE collective.
The African Society of Elegant People, the “SAPE” was born in the years after the independences of Congo-Brazzaville and Zaire.
Today there are two major schools of “SAPE”, respectively inspired by the French and Japanese aristocracy. They clash with high fashion brands, millimetered steps and gestures, from Paris to Kinshasa, during parades in honor of their founding masters, or simply at the Mass of Sunday.
Codified art of sham, glamor and “hast thou seen” for some, for others the SAPE is a metaphysic, a special relation with the question of being and appearance. Sassy, narcissistic and rebellious, the “sapeur” is a romantic.
“Elegance Road” showcases these heroes of modern times. In the decadent sceneries of the city of Kinshasa, from Lemba to Bandal through Ndjili, Matete and Limete, the “sapeurs” of the “War of hundred years” defy the power in place: the Leopards.
Led by the great masters such as Tshikose, Sesele and Kadhitoza, the Congolese dandies constantly reinvent themselves to shine.