The long history of Tabis

The long history of Tabis

I’m pretty sure that we all can agree on the fact that flat ballet shoes are so far 2023 shoes of the year. Thanks to MiuMiu’s ballet core inspiration and the super stylish mesh flats by Maison Alaia that we have seen everywhere, all our favorite influencers said goodbye to sandals and heels to embrace the flats world. 

Still, if there’s a pair of flats that is more iconic than the others, it is surely the tabi ballet flats by Maison Margiela. It’s either you love them or you hate them, but nobody could deny the iconic-ness of these shoes.

Not a long time ago I came across an article in I-D magazine about how Tabis were born and adapted by Maison Margiela. The Tabi-model has a long story rooted in the history and culture of Japan. Starting from the 15th century, when cotton imports came to Japan, Japanese people started to wear Tabi socks: they came in different colors, for hierarchy purposes and different social occasions, and used to be worn with geta or zori, the traditional Japanese clogs. Later, in the 20th century, they became the inspiration for Jika-Tabi, which means “Tabi that comes in contact with the ground”, the rubber and cloth shoes worn by Japanese workers, such as gardeners and construction workers: they are practical and have benefits for feet and spine, making them a comfortable shoe to wear during long hours of working. The Jika-Tabi design first came to the west in the 1950s, thanks to Japanese Olympic runners: during the Boston Marathon in 1951, Japanese runners wore Tabi sneakers, made by super popular running shoes brand Asics, at the time named Onitsuka. Nike too fell in love with the design, creating Air Rifts. Tabis, in all different shapes, are still today one of the shoes that young stylish Japanese people love the most. Here are some pics from Tokyo March 2023 FW:

But it was not until 1988, the years of its debut collection, that Maison Margiela started producing the iconic Tabi boots that we know today. What was synonymous of the philosophy of body comfort for Japanese workers became, for the avant-garde fashion visionary that Martin Margiela is, a way to bring into everyday wardrobes a touch of unconventionality and to celebrate an eastern design. Hosted in an underground Parisian location, Margiela’s first collection was all about Tabi shape: drenched in red paint, the Tabis shoes had to leave their mark on the runway for everyone to admire the design. It is also thanks to Coccodrillo, a shoe store opened in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1984, by fashion amateurs and collectors Eddy Michiels and Geert Bruloot, that Margiela was able to display and sell his adaptation of the traditional design. Both Michiels and Bruloot opened their store not to make a business out of it but rather to make it a little gallery where you could see the shoes, feel them, get inspired by the different shapes and then, maybe, buy them. So, when the fashion student and Jean-Paul Gaurtier collaborator Martin Margiela came to their door with a shoe nobody had seen before in Europe, they accepted immediately. 

Through the years, Tabi boots came in all different colors, from plain black to sparkly silver, and found a sister shape in the ballet flat Tabi, along with Tabi sandals, Tabi Mary-janes, Tabi mules and even Tabi sneakers. Even though Margiela has recently launched a non-tabi version of flats, highly resembling the ones we see on ballet dancers, Tabis will forever be Tabis. 

From underground Berliners, fashion extravaganza lovers and collectors, Tabis have entered the wardrobe of everyone that wants to dare a little, even while keeping a minimalistic attire. Here’s a few pics from Tabi lovers: on their Instagram accounts you can find inspos for all different seasons, ‘cause once you fall in love with Tabis, you will never want them to leave your feet! 

[cover credits go to @margielatab1]