This month marks the 30th anniversary of the tabi boot, a silhouette that made its first appearance at Margiela's runway show in 1989. From the side, the shoe looks like a typical ankle boot with a circular heel. But from the front, the shoe has a split toe, giving it a deranged quality, replicating the hooves of a farm animal and turning the wearer into a fashion centaur. Back then, the reactions were immediate and polarizing, as they remain 30 years later. There are two camps of people: those who love the tabi boot, and those who hate it, unable to understand why anyone would opt to forgo typical notions of fashion to look like an animal.
I’d like to suggest an alternative dichotomy: there are those who have tried on the tabi boot and those who have not. Those who haven’t may be inclined to judge the beastly shoes. I was on the fence before I, like a new-age Cinderella, slipped on a pair. Let me tell you, once you try them on there’s no accounting for how right they feel. Physically, they feel surprisingly comfortable. Psychologically, they imbue the wearer with a primal confidence.
To celebrate the 30th birthday of the shoe, Canadian fashion retailer SSENSE has collaborated with Maison Margiela to create a limited-edition capsule collection celebrating the tabi’s history along with a corresponding exhibition at their retail location in Montreal. Front and center when you enter the store is the original pair of tabi boots, making it the perfect pilgrimage for the die-hard tabi fan. A holy grail, if you will.
Before we dive into the collection, let’s talk about where the Tabi boot actually came from. While Martin Margiela didn’t invent the split-toe, he sure did popularize it. The split-toe style originates from Japanese tabi socks, which were created to be worn with traditional thonged sandals. Writer Arabelle Sicardi tracked the history of the iconic boot in an essay for SSENSE published last year, “For the tabi, [Margiela] was referencing the Japanese worker’s shoe, which traces its lineage as far back as the 15th century. Tabi began as socks...It’s also considered to be connected to your sense of self, and it just happened to fit the thonged sandals commonly worn at the time,” she wrote. Since their first runway show, the split toe boot has been a staple of Margiela. So, it’s no wonder the brand is celebrating the big 3-0.
The SSENSE x Margiela collection features a replica of the original tabi, which was painted white and prone to chip. Likewise, each of the newest tabi’s are slightly different and will chip as you wear them—a time-based art piece for your feet! The collection also includes a tabi key chain, thigh-high statement boots, a purse perfect for an evening out, a t-shirt with tabi-tracks (imagine stepping in wet paint while wearing the tabi boot and then walking across a sheet of fabric, an ode to the original Margiela runway finale), and a white slip-on sneaker version. Limited-edition versions of the tabi, which are released seasonally and deviate from the classic black or white boots, are known to become sought-after collector items—so it’s likely you’ll be seeing these versions on resale sites as soon as they sell out.
This January, actor Cody Fern, known for roles in American Horror Story and House of Cards, wore a pair of tabi boots on the Golden Globe red carpet, eliciting a wave of media attention (towards the tabi and himself). His public flaunting of the off-beat shoe cemented the tabi as a gender-neutral option for turning heads, something we love. It proves what tabi lovers have always known: the tabi boot is for everyone.
There have been whisperings of an upcoming Margiela documentary (Martin Margiela is famously private), which means we could be hearing a lot more about the boot in the months to come. Happy 30th birthday Margiela and Tabi!
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue