Look of the Week: Olivia Rodrigo wears fashion’s most subversive shoe
Editor’s Note: Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, ‘Look of the Week’ is a regular series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.
When Belgian designer Martin Margiela first released the split-toe Tabi silhouette in 1988, he dipped the soles in red paint and sheathed the runway in white gauze; ensuring the cloven footprints left a haunting mark. “It’s for a tiny group of women, and not everyone will like it,” Margiela reportedly said after his second show in 1989. “It’s important to do what you want and there will always be some people who agree.”
The uncanny boot — part hoof, part human foot, often stitched in soft leather that looks like a second skin — was inspired by the 15th Japanese worker shoe and has long been considered one of fashion’s most subversive items, polarizing opinion for 35 years.
These days, the semiotics of the Tabi (which now comes in a ballet flat, sling back, patent loafer or sneaker style) is more diluted. Once a shorthand for sartorial anarchists and fashion history nerds, today the footwear is no longer an insider secret. The Instagram fan account @margielatab1 catalogs hundreds of versions of the boot to it’s 46,600 followers (and even features tattoos dedicated to the boot), while the hashtag ‘#maisonmargielatabi’ has over 1.8 million views on TikTok.
This week, Tabis unlocked a new level of mainstream popularity when Gen Z popstar Olivia Rodrigo donned a pair of black 30mm heel ballet pumps. In a paparazzi photo snapped on Monday, Rodrigo delicately maneuvers her dainty shoes across an unforgiving cobbled London street. It was one small step for the “good 4 u” singer, one giant leap for the cultural awareness of Maison Margiela.
Rodrigo isn’t the only twenty-something It Girl who has been spotted in the split-toe flats lately. Last month, singer Dua Lipa was seen wearing the label’s ballerina style — complete with a double leather strap, woven sole and that cloven-like shape. In June, Zendaya snapped a picture of her classic white Tabis and posted the shoe-selfie to her 184 million Instagram followers.
Fashion purists might protest the sullying of a cult item, but after over three decades on the shelves surely the shoe deserves an audience refresh. Does the Tabi lose its glint of esotericism with popstar approval, or are there now just more people in on the joke? The answer is likely two-fold.