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Death before dishevelment: Enter into Congo's cult of elegance

Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT) February 14, 2014
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Known as "Sapeurs," these dapper dressers are part of a Congolese subculture devoted to the cult of style. In Brazzaville and Kinshasa -- the capitals of neighboring Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo -- they stand out among the widespread poverty, strutting the streets like walking works of art. courtesy Daniele Tamagni
These week, "les Saps" gather for the annual commemoration of the death of Stervos Niarcos, the leader of the La Sape movement, at his grave in the Gombe cemetery in Kinshasa.

This image forms part of a new picture essay by photographer Junior D. Kannah, published by Getty Images.
Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
Every Sapeur has his own unique style. Pastel-colored or dark three-piece suit, cravat or bow tie, and cigars and pipes are de rigueur. Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
"The Sapeur is also about masculinity, politics, changing the stereotypes about how people view Africa," says Didier Gondola, author of "History of the Congo." Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
Many Sapeurs rent or borrow clothes from fellow fops or get them from friends and relatives visiting from Europe. Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
The acronym SAPE roughly translates from French as "The Society for the Advancement of Elegant People." Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
Sapeurs often dress up and meet in streets or bars for an informal contest. It's an occasion to show off the designer labels and unique combination of styles. Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
In the 1970s, Western suits were prohibited. Even then, "les Sapeurs" rebelled by wearing aggressively non-conformist clothes. Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
Sapeurs say they aren't mere fashionistas - as many regard dapper dressing as a "political statement." Junior D. Kannah/AFP/Getty Images
French, Italian, British, and Japanese fashion brands are the most sought-after. Some Sapeurs boast of spending $5,000 on a single suit. Imitations are not tolerated. Errol Barnett/CNN
The attention to detail by "les Saps" tends to include a focus on jewelry, embroidery and color. Errol Barnett/CNN