The fashion cult of the £700 Maison Margiela Tabi shoe (and why it’s going viral)

 (Instagram @menthaeyu)
(Instagram @menthaeyu)

Few footwear silhouettes have garnered the same mix of adoration and abhorrence as the Maison Margiela Tabi. Nowadays, there’s no shortage of outlandish, taste-affronting shoes - from MSCHF’s head-hurting Croc Big Yellow Boots to JW Anderson’s Wellipet Frog Clogs - but the split-toe Tabi was the original fugly-shoe provocateur.

At the Tabi’s debut in 1988, Martin Margiela sent white lab coat-wearing models down the Café de la Gare runway with the boots dipped in red paint, which left behind strange yet alluring red hoofprints. The shoe swiftly became a cult fashion piece, and essential sempahore to insider status.

The original shape has since been reimagined in cowboy boots, loafers and ballet flats and is beloved by ultra-stylish It girls Chloë Sevigny, Rihanna, Zendaya, Kylie Jenner and Dua Lipa. They’re also the subject of countless fan accounts. Most famously the Instagram account @Margielatab1, which has 46.5k followers and was profiled in Dazed in 2017, while on TikTok, the hashtag  #margielatabi has over 5.4 million views.

Kylie Jenner steps out in the Tabi boot, January 22, 2023 (GC Images)
Kylie Jenner steps out in the Tabi boot, January 22, 2023 (GC Images)

They’re so revered that one man went to great, unhinged lengths to steal a pair from a one night stand.

The chaotic dating horror story, which is now being referred to as Tabi Swiper, went viral this weekend after Alexis Dougé uploaded a video to TikTok on Friday.

“This man is out here on Tinder and Hinge, and he will steal from you,” Dougé started the video, which has now amassed over 855,000 views. She then went on to detail how a male Tinder date named Josh managed to steal her Margiela £700 Tabi Mary Janes, which were a birthday present from her father.

The cursed story goes like this: a chance meeting of eyes on the streets of SoHo led him to realise they’d previously matched on Tinder. He messages her and they agree to have drinks. “Fast forward, we hang out again, he comes over and we sleep together,” Alexis (or @nextlevellexus on TikTok) says. “He says ‘oh I really want some Tabis’ and I’m like ‘oh yeah I’ve got some.’” You can see where this is going.

They slept together once more in the morning, before Josh hurriedly left her apartment. It wasn’t long before she realised the Mary Jane Tabis he had been checking out at the bottom of her shelf were missing.

“I looked high and low, looked under my bed, looked [in] my suitcase, [looked in] my closet, can’t find them anywhere," she explains. "I’m like ‘Okay, that’s fine. I’m not gonna be accusatory, I’m just gonna see if he knows where I put them.” Unfortunately, when she went to message him, she realised she had been unmatched on Tinder, and that he had deleted his number and any call logs between them while he had been pretending to find a playlist on her Spotify the night before.

It’s at this point she realised: “This bitch stoke my fu**ing Tabis”.

After the story went viral on TikTok, a woman reached out to Alexis revealing a damning detail to the surreal saga. “My friend has been dating him for months and he just gave her a pair of [T]abis!!!!!," they wrote. "Do you have receipts I can show her?? so freaking out for her rn." Yes, you read that correctly. The assailant not only stole his one night stand’s Tabis, he gifted them to the girlfriend that he was cheating on.

Luckily Alexis managed to track down the thief’s number, where he pleaded innocent until being sent a screenshot of his girlfriend wearing the stolen goods. "Ight you got me, I’ll get them back to you give me a time and place & I’m just asking [you] to remove the [Tik] Tok is all," he finally replied.

Her last TikTok post confirmed she was back in possession of the shoes after confronting the Tabi Swiper at Grand Central Station. However the story has now entered the realms of infamy, with thousands of fashion girlies sharing videos of their Tabi collection (and how they’re protecting it from the Tabi Swiper), and sharing their love for the much storied shoe.

Although the Tabi is most closely associated with Margiela, its history predates 15th-century Japan - where the unusual silhouette began life as a sock that was largely worn by the idle elite. The thinking behind these split-toe socks was rooted in holistic reflexology, with the design believed to promote balance and clarity. By the 1900s rubber soles had been added, so that they could be worn while working outdoors, and these “Jika-tabi” (as they are called) are still the go-to shoe for workers in Japan today.

Martin Margiela discovered these shoes during a trip to Japan after leaving his assistant position at Jean Paul Gaultier to set up his own label, Maison Martin Margiela. His goal was to find a radically different shoe, which he found in the Jika-tabi.

In the 2019 documentary Martin Margiela: In His Own Words, the designer explained: "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. I thought, OK, why shouldn’t I do a soft Tabi shoe but on a high heel? And then the idea was born."

However it almost proved too radical, with traditional cobblers unable to wrap their machinery around the split-toe shape. That was until Margiela was introduced to an Italian craftsman named Mr. Zagato by Geert Bruloot, who would go on to be the first retailer to stock Margiela’s pre-Gaultier shoes at his Antwerp boutique, Cocodrillo.

Since then, other fashion brands including Nike and Vetements have produced their own takes, but none have elicited the same hysteria as Margiela’s one. “The Tabi boot is the most important footprint of my career,” the designer said during an exhibition at Antwerp’s MoMu in 2015. “It’s recognizable, it still goes on after 25 years, it has never been copied”.

It’s probably why the Tabi Swiper story has garnered as much attention as it has. After all, it’s hard to imagine the same kind of fanfare over a stolen pair of Uggs. Now all that’s left is for Netflix to make a limited three-part series about the whiplash-inducing tale.