“The Tabi boot is the most important footprint of my career: it’s recognisable, it still goes on after 25 years, and it has never been copied.” Arguably the most famous quote from the reclusive Martin Margiela, his high-regard for the infamous Tabi speaks volumes—especially when considering his immense archive and enduring influence. When the split-toed footwear debuted during Margiela’s inaugural Spring/Summer 1989 runway show, the clove toed shoe shocked the fashion world to its core. Yet, season after season, the silhouette returned and despite reservations continued to sell.

While the Tabi is deeply intertwined with Margiela’s legacy, to claim that the Tabi is wholly unique is a drastic overstatement. Not only have others explored the concept of split-toed footwear, but the Tabi itself precedes Margiela by hundreds of years. The Tabi dates back to the 15th century, when Japan began importing cotton from China. The introduction of the raw material gave birth to a slew of new products, including socks. At the time the Geta—a wooden platform sandal with a leather thong strap—was footwear of choice, and new socks had to accommodate its structure. The result was the creation of an ankle height cotton sock with a separation between the big toe and the rest of the foot—the original Tabi.

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