Back in 1988, the ingenious Belgian designer Martin Margiela introduced the groundbreaking split-toe Tabi design to the world. With a daring touch, he dipped the soles in vivid red paint and adorned the runway with billowy white gauze, ensuring that the distinctive cloven footprints left an indelible and haunting impression. Following his second show in 1989, Margiela notably remarked, ‘This is meant for a select group of women, and it’s not about pleasing everyone. Staying true to your creative vision is crucial, and there will always be those who resonate with it.’
This uncanny boot, resembling a fusion of a hoof and a human foot, often crafted from supple leather that seems to mimic a second skin, drew its inspiration from 15th-century Japanese worker shoes. For over three decades, it has remained one of the most provocative and polarizing items in the realm of fashion. In its current iteration, the symbolism associated with the Tabi silhouette (now available in forms such as ballet flats, slingbacks, patent loafers, and sneakers) has become more diluted. What was once a hallmark of style rebels and enthusiasts of fashion history is no longer a closely guarded secret. The Instagram fan account @margielatab1 meticulously documents numerous iterations of this boot, amassing a dedicated following of 46,600 individuals. The account even showcases tattoos paying homage to the Tabi. Simultaneously, the hashtag ‘#maisonmargielatabi’ has garnered over 1.8 million views on TikTok.
This particular week witnessed a transformative moment for Tabi footwear, as it broke into the mainstream consciousness when Olivia Rodrigo, the acclaimed Gen Z pop sensation, elegantly adorned a pair of 30mm-heeled black ballet pumps from the collection. In a candid paparazzi snapshot captured on a bustling London cobblestone street, Rodrigo gracefully navigates the unforgiving terrain in her delicate shoes. This marked a seemingly modest stride for the singer of ‘good 4 u,’ but indeed a significant leap for the broader recognition of Maison Margiela’s cultural impact.
Yet, Olivia Rodrigo isn’t the sole twenty-something influencer embracing the allure of the split-toe flats in recent times. In the previous month, the renowned singer Dua Lipa was spotted donning the label’s ballerina-style Tabi shoes, complete with a dual leather strap, intricately woven sole, and the signature cloven design. Similarly, in June, Zendaya posted a snapshot of her classic white Tabis, showcasing the shoes to her staggering 184 million Instagram followers.”