Fashion and Retail Association
The History Behind Maison Margiela’s Polarizing Tabis
Updated: Mar 1, 2022
By: Emmanuella Ojo
You’ve probably heard of Margiela’s Tabis, or if you don’t know the shoe by name, you’ve likely seen them someplace, somewhere. And unlike other well-known shoes, the Tabis elicit a strong response from its viewer. Either one of utter disgust or utter awe. But rarely in between. But what is the story behind this iconic silhouette? How did it manage to enter the world stage of the fashion industry?
Contrary to popular belief, Maison Margiela did not invent the tabi silhouette. He drew inspiration for the shoe while studying the ancient history of Japan at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp. Furthermore, travels to the East Asian country and communications with Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo ignited the young artist.
The tabi was an ancient design dated back to 15th century Japan and often worn by Japanese workers. Although the tabi began as socks, the jika-tabi (or the “shoe tabi”) became adopted in the 20th century so people could style the silhouette for outdoor activities. You may be wondering, “Why a split-toe design to begin with?” In the context of ancient Japanese culture, the tabi promoted balance through the separation of the big toe; this strategy was believed to promote a clear mind.
This thought-provoking show left many people then, just like today, stirred up about the shoe. And that “smack-in-the-face” feeling is why the shoe has remained so relevant since its debut. You either hate it, or you love it. The Tabi unarguably continues the conversation of “what is considered fashion?” in an era where conformity is challenged.
The Tabi has become synonymous with the Margiela brand ever since. Without a logo or loud labels, the Tabi pays homage to the ancient Japanese shoe and established Margiela as one of the most well-respected avant-garde designers in the world.