Sapeurs groove down a red-carpet catwalk as the designer brings a hit of optimism and joy to Paris
Get on up, jive and groove along! If you can’t get down with Junya Watanabe’s crew of soulful dandies then we know that the world really has gone cynical and sour. This was a cheering jolt to the early morning of day 3 of Paris, as a carefully assembled group of dandified men strutted, postured and swaggered their way around this square joint, resplendent under the reflections of a giant disco ball. Watanabe was inspired by the elegance of the Congolese sapeurs – adherents of the La Sape movement, who use their take on pre-colonial dandy attire and manner to defy their impoverished environment – as famously captured by Daniele Tamagni.
Those photographs challenged our preconceived notions of elegance and so did this show, as each man walked out in slimline fitted suits, shiny dress shoes, sometimes topped off with an Abraham Lincoln-esque top hat and sideburns. If that sounds hackneyed, it wasn’t, as Watanabe’s penchant for patchwork and tactile textures lifted the clothes. The focus was on the people inhabiting the clothes – they were in full command of their attire as opposed to the other way around.
These guys couldn’t have moved and grooved if they didn’t have the right soundtrack - “Oh Honey” by Delegation, “Say What You Will” by George Duke, “Unicorn” by Dizzy Gillespie, “Cosmic Funk” by Lonnie Liston Smith and The Cosmic Echoes and “Body Fusion” by Starvue, made up this eclectic morning mix. It had to end with a classic crooner though as, Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” capped off an uplifting start to the day.
Street cast sapeurs:
The majority of the gents on the runway were all street casted in Paris, and as per Watanabe’s inspiration, the line-up also featured genuine sapeurs, which only amplified that feeling of unabashedly genuine elegance. You couldn’t fake or choreograph the way they moved, the way they’d glance at you and the way they held themselves. It didn’t feel necessarily like a statement on racial diversity or a deliberate distinction between black and white. Rather, it was the perfect assembly of people to react to the music in their own idiosyncratic way and come together as a joyful collective presence. It certainly enthused the weary eyes in the audience and the final round of applause lingered longer as a result.
The soundtrack to Junya Watanabe AW15: