The House of Maison Margiela is known for its avant-garde approach to fashion, its rule-breaking and its diversity of inspiration. An integral ingredient are Maison Margiela shoes, which include the Tabi and the Replica. In this guide, we delve into the intricacies of Maison Margiela shoes, their history, and what makes them so sought after.
Founded by artist and designer Martin Margiela and creative partner Jenny Meirens in 1988, Maison Margiela is a brand of luxury, headquartered in Paris. The Belgian designer's namesake is synonymous with strong unlabeled silhouettes, obscurity, and an unconventional approach to design which is reflected in the brand's shoes. In his design practice, Margiela would re-work the ordinary, taking little notice of preconceived notions of originality within the fashion system. Both the Tabi and the replica GAT sneaker embody this.
MAISON MARGIELA'S ICONIC TABI SHOE
The split-toe Margiela tabi is a staple of Maison Margiela, appearing in altered forms every season from spring 1989 onwards. It was inspired by the Japanese ‘jika-tabi’, a functional shoe or boot which features a flexible rubber sole and an upper formed traditionally from a hard-wearing canvas textile from the late 19th onwards. Before this, during Japan’s Edo period, the shoe was formed from a less practical all-leather, or leather and wood construction.
Margiela’s tabi featured exclusively in his womenswear line until he departed from fashion in 2008, though the design itself can be considered unisex. Supple leather and a stacked heel made for the tabi’s striking appearance during its debut. Models walked the runway with shoes saturated with red dye, leaving hoof marks printed on the stage. Though there was a differentiation between the tabi’s of each season through hand-painting, graffiti and differing heights, it was only after Martin Margiela left the brand that further variation was explored.
The Margiela Tabi has been reimagined as Loafers, Slip-on flats and ankle boots for men. In 2021, Margiela and Reebok collaborated to produce a split-toe leather running shoe, and an innovative gladiator boot.
THE REPLICA SNEAKER
Inspired by the standard issue German Army Trainer (GAT), the Replica sneaker features a low-top silhouette and a minimalist design. It was first introduced in Spring 1999 and has since become a favourite among fashion enthusiasts. It was in 1996 that Margiela discovered the German Army Trainer while in Austria. The trainer was originally produced by Adi Dassler (Adidas) and his brother Rudolf (PUMA) for army fitness in the 1970s. Margiela’s ‘Replica’ collections combined the studio’s extensive research of historical garments with luxury updates. The Replica GAT was made luxurious through the application of quality Italian leather and handcraft. It was originally released as part of the ‘Artisanal’ line, ‘0,10: Garments remodelled by hand for men’.
Over the years the Replica sneaker has transformed through colour, embellishments, hand-painting and graffiti, which are tropes of the brand. The replica label is distinct from Margiela’s numbering system with a more traditional hand-written appearance. The GAT’s label reads ‘Men’s sports shoes, lambskin and calf-split, Austria, 70’s’.
THE NUMBER '22'
In 1997, Margiela’s lines were differentiated by his now iconic numbering system. Labels feature rows from 0-23, with one or more numbers circled. The label number ‘22’ refers to ‘a collection of shoes for men and women’.
OTHER MAISON MARGIELA SHOES
The Margiela ‘Trashed Future Sneakers’ of 2017 feature a deconstructed angular design as though torn into with a box cutter, with a Replica GAT sole unit. It's just one iteration of the ‘22 future’ silhouette which appears in both a low and a high-top configuration.
The Security Margiela Sneaker, a chunkier addition to the brands line-up, debuted in Paris for autumn winter 2018. Taking inspiration from western workwear, the shoe features a steel toe cap and a hard-wearing Virbram sole. As the name suggests, the silhouette takes design cues from the footwear donned by those in the security services.
Other classic Margiela silhouettes such as the square-toe boot, inspired in part by the go-go boots of the 1960s, and reconstructed Derby shoes appear throughout the seasons.