From Chimamanda Adichie’s widely-publicized made-in-Nigeria wardrobe to Teju Cole’s Ikire Jones scarves to Prof Ato Quayson’s fedora hats, fashion and style have become a new mode of self-expression among African literary figures. They effortlessly blend literary success and a love for style. In so doing, these writers have transformed the idea of the public intellectual into a lifestyle.
One of the leading figures of this new age of African literary culture where fashion and style matter is Alain Mabanckou. Mabanckou was born in the Congo-Brazzaville town of Pointe-Noire. He made a splash on the global literary scene in 2005 with the publication of Broken Glass. More novels followed and established him as the storyteller of the unconventional. He is brazenly committed to experimentation at the level form and language. There are artists who find success by nurturing a worshipful relationship to tradition. That is not Mabanckou. A prolific writer, Manbackou has made an industry out of exploring the margins of literary tradition.
His body of work is distinct and boundary pushing, but so is his personal style. We began paying attention to Mabanckou’s style about a years ago when he delivered a lecture in College de France wearing a cobalt blue tuxedo. What we’ve since learned is that his style, like his novels, is far from conventional.
His sartorial preference is edgy and exhibits influences from La Sape, a decades-old fashion sub-culture that originated in Congo-Brazzaville and that features tailored suits, bright colors, quirky style compositions, and funky accessories. Mabanckou’s blazers and shirts come in bold colors and print fabric. He accessorizes with hats and pocket squares. His round-rimmed glasses might appear to be a functional piece, but it is, at closer look, a bold statement of style.
Mabanckou’s style is both elaborate and precise, so you know it requires a good bit of orchestration and expertise. That’s where Jocelyn Armel aka Le Bachelor comes in. He is Mabanckou’s stylist and the brains behind some of the novelist’s most striking looks. Le Bachelor is a Paris-based designer who is also well-studied in sapology. His fashion line called Connivences features Italian-made blazers and fashion accessories, which he makes available through Sape et Co, a boutique in Chateau Rouge that he’s owned for over ten years.
Mabanckou is changing the rules on how to tell African stories, but he is also changing the rule book on how to look like an African writer. On July 2nd, Mabanckou will deliver the keynote address at the 2017 Africa Writes Festival in London. Of course, we are eager to hear what he has to say about “his journey as a writer and the politics of language and style.” But after the blue-tuxedo affair in Paris, we are rather curious about what he will wear in London.
Enjoy this small selection of Mabanckou’s undeniably fashionable wardrobe.