The Margiela Tabi: The Appeal Of The Controversial Shoe, Explained

The shoe is more relevant than ever.
a photo of a woman's legs. She wears brown trousers, carries a white gucci bag and wears white margiela tabi boots
Image: Getty

You would be hard-pressed to find a shoe as controversial as the Margiela Tabi.

When the cleft-toed shoe first emerged in 1988, it made a mark right away—quite literally. In a moment memorialised in fashion history, for the finale of his inaugural show, Martin Margiela had his models, garbed in white coats and Tabi Boots, walk through red paint before taking to the runway. The hoof-shaped prints would not only leave their mark on the catwalk, but fashion more broadly.

In the three and a half decades since it first hit the runway, the shoe has morphed from an intriguing-albeit-confusing piece of footwear to an IYKYK item that indicates one’s status as a fashion insider. Ahead, everything to know about the Margiela Tabi, including its surprising origin story and how it hit the mainstream.

Dua Lipa wears a pair of mary jane Tabis in 2023 (Image: Getty)

What is the Maison Margiela Tabi?

The Margiela Tabi comes in several styles, including boots, stiletto pumps, mary janes, loafers, ballet flats and sneakers. Across all makes, the shoe’s defining feature is its split between the toes, which creates a hoof-like appearance.

Why Did Margiela Make The Tabi?

Martin Margiela actually did not invent the tabi. In fact, the style has its roots in 15th-century Japan, with the invention of the split-toed tabi sock. Drawing on reflexology, the style was thought to promote balance by separating the big and second toes. The sock also fit the thong-like sandals that were commonly worn at the time, known as zori and geta. Over the centuries, this cotton sock evolved into a kind of outdoor shoe called jika-tabi, which continues to be worn by some gardeners, farmers and construction workers in Japan today.

It was the jika-tabi that caught Margiela’s eye during his travels in the late 1980s. At this point, the Belgian-born designer had left his post at Jean Paul Gaultier to start his own business and was determined to invent a new kind of shoe for his debut presentation.

Yujo Standing by Kaigetsudô Ando, Edo period, 1615-1868 (Image: Heritage Art via Getty Images)

“My memory went back to the day we went to Tokyo for the first time, when we saw street workers in their flat cotton Tabi shoes,” the designer explained in the 2019 documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words. “I thought, okay, why shouldn’t I do a soft Tabi shoe but on a high heel? And then the idea was born.”

To begin with, no cobbler would take on the task of making Margiela’s split-toe design. That was until Italian craftsman, Mr. Zagato was shown a prototype during a dinner and decided he was up for the challenge.

The shoe would debut at Margiela’s spring/summer 1989 show at Café de la Gare in Paris, and while reviews were mixed, thanks to the designer’s aforementioned paint stunt, the Tabis were impossible to ignore.

As Margiela himself explained in the book Footprint: The Track of Shoes, “I thought the audience should notice the new footwear. And what would be more evident than its footprint?”

Greta Gerwig wears a pair of Louboutin Tabis at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival (Image: Getty)

Is The Margiela Tabi Popular?

Long considered an item only recognisable to (and often, appreciated by) those in the fashion know, in recent years, the Margiela Tabi has hit the mainstream.

In September 2023, the shoe went viral after a woman named Lexus took to TikTok to warn fellow New Yorkers about a “tabi swiper.” Lexus explained that she had been on a date with a man named Josh after they matched on Tinder. After he spent the night at her apartment, Lexus found that he had made away with her beloved mary jane Tabis—then proceeded to unmatch her on Tinder and deleted his contact from her phone. The story took the internet by storm and put Tabis on the timelines of non-fashion folk in a big way.

Plus, the shoe has been snapped on the feet of it-girls like Dua Lipa and Kylie Jenner, and just last year, Lyst named the Tabi Mary Jane the hottest product of Q3 2023.

Kylie Jenner wears a Tabi stiletto pump to the Maison Margiela menswear presentation in 2023 (Image: Instagram @kyliejenner)

Accordingly, the shoe is less provocative than it once was. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less divisive. 35 years on from its debut, the Margiela Tabi continues to confuse and excite—a dichotomy that arguably defines the entirety of the Margiela brand more broadly.

But no matter where you sit on the spectrum from Love to Love-to-Hate, there’s no denying the Tabi’s status as a genuine icon of modern fashion and footwear.

Where To Buy Margiela Tabis In Australia

Margiela Tabis are available to shop in Australia via several retailers. Our favourites are:


Maison Margiela Tabi 60mm Ankle Boots

from $1,479 at Farfetch


Maison Margiela Tabi Leather Ballerina Shoes

from $720 at Farfetch


Maison Margiela Tabi Pumps

from $1,595 at Parlour X

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