"Dandyism appears especially in the transitory periods when democracy is not yet all-powerful, and when aristocracy is only partially unsettled and depreciated... Dandyism is the last splendour of heroism in decadence... Dandyism is a setting sun; like the star in its decline, it is superb, without heat and full of melancholy." - Charles Baudelaire
The resurgence of modern day Dandyism is no new fashion trend. As Baudelaire states Dandyism is "the last splendor of heroism." I've been examining this resurgence in the Modern Day Gentlemen (Dandy) by group in the Congo who are called Les Sapeurs. Se saper is the french verb to dress elegantly and the SAPE stands for Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants. Through my own research I've gone deeper into what is being signified and who exactly is the signifier for this group of fascinating men. My first point of contemporary analysis is to juxtapose the British fashion designer Paul Smith's Women's Spring 2010 collection that was inspired by Les Sapeurs.
The interaction between this British designer and this group of fashion-obsessed Congolese dandies signifies the importace of being elegant. The two converge and navigate different spaces when wearing their clothes. How did Smith find and begin to follow this trend? Are the two interacting reversely because of the different motivations? Can the lines of ambivalence and fluidity be crossed without it becoming a spectacle?
For the models in the runway show, they interact with the clothes completely different than the Sapeurs. The models get paid to walk in the designer clothes with an artful swag. The Sapeurs dress as a discourse to embody their moral code, their mentality and their community. They have a sense of negotiation between their settings and a much stronger emphasis on spoken clothing. These men dress to assert a different type of social identity. It wasn't a role assigned to them, but very similar to the 19th century dandies, it is a "chosen" lifestyle.
|A Sapeur [photo from Gentlemen of Bacongo]|
|Paul Smith, the designer and a model [ photo:style.com]|