Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo – Wearing a white linen Jean Courcel suit, a Chanel bow tie and Versace sunglasses, Ntsimba Marie Jenne would not look out of place in the front row of the Paris or London fashion weeks.
But the 52-year-old happens to be strutting her stuff in Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of the Congo.
She is one of the growing number of women belonging to the Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes (the Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People), or SAPE.
Like their impeccably dressed male counterparts, the female Sapeuses will spend in excess of $3,000 on a suit when they do not even have running water, and go without food in order to save up for the right designer accessories.
Most have ordinary day jobs as policewomen and tailors, but as soon as they clock off, they transform. On the streets of Brazzaville, they are treated like rock stars, defying their circumstances to bring “joie de vivre” to their communities.
Spending money on ornate umbrellas and silk socks might seem surreal when almost half the country’s population lives in poverty, but the SAPE movement aims to do more than just lift the spirits. Over the decades, it has functioned as a form of colonial resistance, social activism and peaceful protest.