22. A circled 22 that it is. This is the number found on the bottom of one of the most controversial shoes in fashion. The number signifies a collection of shoes for women & men under Maison Margiela, the most infamous of which is the Tabi Boot. Known for its split toe design, resembling that of a hoove to those unfamiliar with the style, the Tabi boot has a long history, coming before Martin Margiela himself. The tabi style dates back as far as the 15th century Japan when the design was seen only with socks. These tabi socks were believed to give mental clarity & balance to the body & were worn with traditional Japanese footwear such as geta & zori.
Before putting out a collection, Margiela went on a trip to Japan. In fact, he had given himself a year's time to isolate himself from fashion society & the mainstream in order to better cultivate his own interests & goals. He wanted to determine for certain what it was exactly he wanted to do & offer to fashion, what he wanted to propose. On this trip to Japan, Martin quickly noticed the unique split-toe style in japanese footwear such as the Jika-Tabi. He saw the beauty in this Japanese aesthetic & wanted to realize it in his work, his own interpretation. This instance, however, may raise the question of cultural appropriation to some & it is an issue that seems to be attached to Tabi. The tabi boot is not an original idea by Martin, but it is the epitome of Maison Martin Margiela: not a new invention in fashion, but a proposition of an already existing garment & style, a reinterpretation of historical fashion reconsurtcuted in a way only Margiela knows how to do. Afterall, that is an integral part of the maison: reexamining historical fashion & playing with convention. The question becomes whether or not it was appropriate for Martin to explore fashion across the globe. I will leave that for the reader to decide.
In the documentary, Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, Margiela revealed that “ the most important details [of a silhouette] are the shoulder & the shoe. Everything in between I fill up. The shoulder gives you a certain attitude & the shoes, of course, give you a certain movement.” It comes as no surprise then that the Belgian designer would choose the distinctive Tabi style as one of his first footwear offerings. Margiela, however, had trouble finding a cobbler to manufacture the shoe, but after meeting Mr. Zagato, an Italian craftsman, the soon to be controversial boot was ready to be made. The Tabi Boot finally made its debut along with the Maison’s first collection in the Spring Summer 1989 season. The public met the boots hesitantly, but were fascinated with its striking look. Margiela himself was aware of the shoe’s special shape so he had the models coat the bottom of the boots with red paint. As the models strided down the runway, many of who were walking a show for the first time, they left behind red hoof prints. It is safe to say though, they left behind much more than that. Martin Margiela had left his mark on fashion while unintentionally warning the industry of the radical career & influence he & the shoe would have for decades to come.
Written By: Anthony Vargas