Maison Margiela’s Tabi | The Iconic History, Style & Fit

Whether you love or hate them, there is no question of the significance that Maison Margiela’s Tabi shoe has had and still has within Fashion. First seen over 30 years ago, with many brands recreating their own renditions, Margiela’s Tabi is the are the ultimate high-fashion shoe that has never been beaten. Here is everything you need to know about the iconic split-toe design…

Margiela Tabi

Left to right: Image of Maison Margiela / Japanese Navel WW2 / Margiela Tabi Dazed Digital

Tabi’s Inspiration

In 1988, the eponymous Belgian designer Martin Margiela debuted his first collection, which featured the iconic Tabi boot. The inspiration for the unusual silhouette came from the traditional Japanese tabi sock, which was worn with sandals to separate the big toe from your other toes.

During the 20th century, it was mandatory to wear socks with such footwear as barefoot was considered to be erotic. They later added rubber soles and the socks morphed into boots for Japanese workers. The “jika-tabi,” or tabi boots, are still worn in the country today. Their soft soles gave workers, farmers, gardeners and soldiers a flexible, practical and hard-wearing alternative.

Margiela Tabi


Maison Margiela Tabi Debut

Margiela debuted the Tabi shoes in his Spring/Summer collection. He had the model’s feet drenched in red paint, so when they took to the runway they left big footprints, drawing attention to the unusual design. The following season Margiela’s opening look was the paint-splattered backdrop that he reworked into a waistcoat, breaking through the runway stereotypes at the time. Due to budgets, the shoes were worn repeatedly for many seasons, eventually resulting in people asking specifically for the shoes.

It was one of the most monumental moments of his career “It’s the Tabi boot,” he told Bruloot. “It’s recognizable and it has been there for more than 25 years now—it’s there, and it still goes on, and it has never been copied. It’s an incredible story.”

Martin Margiela’s Tabi design was initially introduced for women, sporting a high heel, but the original silhouette from Japan has always been unisex. It wasn’t until years after Martin’s departure from his eponymous label that the house begin making Tabi boots for men. It has been 30 years since the introduction of the silhouette to the fashion industry, and the split toe design has quite literally been causing a divide since its debut.

Tabi Collaborations

In 2020 Margiela teamed up with Reebok to launch a fashion sneaker that was a hybrid of the two brands most iconic designs. Combining Reebok’s trailblazing sneaker from 1994, the Instapump Fury, and Maison Margiela’s Tabi. It was inspired in 2015 when Margiela said he wanted to create an ‘invisible’ shoe, the illusion of barefoot walking on a high, chunky heel.”

Reebok x Maison Margelia

Photo Credit:

The result was an eight-piece collection that came in two heights. One flat-heeled version and one chunky block heel version. The hybrid sneaker boot design paid homage to both Margiela and Rebook. Coming in all-black or all-white (very Margiela) while renditions composed from yellow, black and red, or white, blue, and red paid respect to Reebok’s original sneaker.

Are Tabi’s true to size?

The Tabi collection for most is true to size. Although if you know you know you can sit on the borderline of sizes, some people size up, especially with the boots or pumps.

Are Tabi’s comfortable?

The Tabi collection is made from leather and at first it can feel firm and maybe a little uncomfortable. However, the leather will mould and soften to your foot, with a secure, snug fit. Once you have worn them in and you naturally adapt very quickly to the split toe, they are practical and comfortable shoes that you can wear every day. Make sure you get tabi socks to fit the split toe design, to give you optimum comfort.


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Written by Holly Thompson

Featured Image Credit: Dazed Digital 

Holly Thompson

Holly Thompson

Writer and expert