Europe sees another colourful side to Congo as sapeur fashion makes its mark on Paris.
PARIS, FRANCE (MARCH 18, 2010) - Scarred by poverty and conflict over natural resources, Congo Republic is showing a brighter side with its most recent export: Fashionistas bringing Congolese dandy chic to Paris.
Known in their home country as "sapeurs" -- a play on the French word for "well dressed" -- Congolese luxury fans have perfected the art of matching candy-coloured suits, croc shoes and rakishly cocked hats in an homage to male vanity.
And while the fashion trend started with Congolese migrants returning from France and displaying their wealth through luxury clothing, a new generation is proudly parading the colourful style of Brazzaville through the streets of Paris.
Leading the pack is Jocelyn Armel, nicknamed "Le Bachelor", who spoke to Reuters Television wearing tartan-patterned trousers, a natty handkerchief peeking out of his suit pocket.
"In fact, the origin of the sapeur is that it's a movement that came from old returning Congolese soldiers, our parents, who came to fight for France. And when they went back to their country, they were really classy. They were dressed more finely than those who had stayed in the Congo. And it all started from there," Jocelyn Armel, designer and owner of "Connivences" shop in Paris, said.
And the sapeurs are showing the Western world that they do not have a monopoly on looking sharp. When Armel set up his label five years ago next to an African hairdresser and a supermarket crammed with yams and bags of dried pulses, the dandies were not convinced. They preferred French brands such as Dior and Louis Vuitton. Now, European fashion fans are discovering the style. There are photo exhibitions on the trend at Paris's Dapper Museum and Amsterdam's Prince Claus Gallery.
"We're copying things that already exist, but there's a Congolese touch within, a sapeur touch. The sapeurs bring colour today, colour that was hard to wear yesterday because it was yellow, it was red, what you call the "head to toe". Today the Congolese come to Connivences, or to other Congolese sapeurs in Paris, we wear those colours to show people that sape, that elegance isn't only in Paris, London and Milan," Armel added.
And Armel believes that this colour is the key to his success.
"That's the originality of Connivences. To make people wear colours that are beautiful, that other labels don't offer. Because a French person, an Italian person, perhaps an English person, might only wear navy blue or black, because that goes well with their skin. But as a black person, as an African, yellow goes with my skin, red goes with my skin, green goes with my skin," said Armel.