First worn on the feet of models at Martin Margiela’s debut show in 1988, the Tabi instantly became a topic of discussion, building an iconic cult status along the way. A re-interpretation of the Japanese split-toe rubber-soled work booties, the jika-tabi, it took the fashion world by storm, challenging traditional standards and pushing the industry into the future. At the initial fashion show, the soles of the boots were drenched in vivid red paint which left distinct red footprints on the fabric that covered the runway. In an interview in 2015, Margiela explained to Geert Bruloot, “I thought the audience should notice the new footwear. And what would be more evident than its footprint?”
Much of Margiela’s initial showings were constructed as a result of necessity and budgetary constraints. The fabric boasting those red footprints was used in following collections to construct new pieces of clothing. As there was no budget for new footwear, the same boots used in the initial show were reused, often painted in regular house paint to appear new – “In the beginning there was no budget for a new form, so I had no other choice than to continue with [the Tabi style] if I wanted shoes.”
The Tabi’s iconic status is deeply divisive. For those more traditional in their fashion aesthetic, Margiela’s Tabi boots are a bizarre presence in the luxury industry’s exclusive world. This has resulted in much ridicule, with some snide comments equating the shoe’s design to a camel toe. For those admiring the avant-garde, the boots are a must have item, a holy grail. A piece of art strewn in history. Their importance in the world of fashion as we know it, as Margiela’s first controversial and disruptive challenge to the previous standards of fashion is a piece of history in itself.
Much of what we consider mainstream in the world of fashion today has roots in what Martin Margiela introduced decades ago. His focus on deconstructed pieces, oversized, boxy designs and the showing of unfinished clothing with frayed hems today all seem normal. While many of his ideas and artistic choices have been adopted and copied by many designers, the Tabi remained too eccentric to be widely distributed as the new standard, standing alone as a representation of a turning point in the industry and therefore holding an appeal as the marker of a revolution and an appreciation for the icon behind it all.
Having recently purchased my own pair of Martin Margiela Tabi boots, I could not feel more honoured to be in the possession of such a significant piece of fashion history. I purchased the Maison Margiela Tabi Hologram Ankle Boots in a dark red with a black hologram heel from their Spring/Summer 2019 collection.
They are a beautiful investment piece. Incredibly comfortable, they fit like a glove. They boast an 8cm heel (3.1 inches) and full leather construction which is buttery and soft. If you have been eyeing these out but were concerned about the feel of the split toe, I can attest to the fact that it actually adds to the comfort of the boot, preventing my foot from sliding forward, which can happen with high heels. The closure mechanism is a work of art in itself, taking direct inspiration from Margielas initial inspiration, the jika-tabi. These boots are a truly special addition to my wardrobe and one that I am sure will attract many looks in the future, both positive and negative.