Many qualities come to mind when remembering the retired fashion designer Martin Margiela: enigmatic, anti-conformist, thoughtful, and innovative, to name a few. Martin Margiela is one of the great fashion designers of the 20th century and a notoriously reclusive character, as there are very few photographs of him and only one interview was given during his career. He has been known as a pioneer of upcycled fashion since 1989 and became famous for his iconic, oversized silhouettes.
The designer was a man ahead of his time because he preferred to transform, deconstruct and reinvent what already exists — an approach that is not only experimental, but also inherently sustainable. Read on as we reveal the rebellious history and our favourite shoes from his eponymous fashion label, Maison Margiela.
After Martin Margiela graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp in 1984, he moved to Paris and dove headfirst into the world of haute couture with Jean Paul Gaultier, with whom he worked until 1987. Although not a member of the famous Antwerp Six, Margiela is often associated with the group of indomitable creatives. He founded his eponymous brand in 1988 and presented his first collection the same year, and the press immediately applauded his designs. His distinct style, rebellious spirit, and unconventional shows placed him at the top of emerging fashion to watch. A signature style all his own quickly burst to life. He defined his philosophy in the words, ‘Nothing is lost, everything is transformed’. Margiela played with materials, transformed coats into collars, cut trench coats into dresses, and salvaged unraveling military socks, assembling them into jumpers.
The designer is also known for using unusual materials to craft his designs: plastic bags, Plexiglas, and canvas tarps transform into original pieces. Even leather gloves are unexpectedly combined to form a breastplate or broken plates are reimagined into a jacket. This revolutionary approach to design creates looks that are surreal and conceptual.
In 1994, the Replica line was born (and lives on today in the beloved Replica sneaker). A series of collections mixing clothes, accessories, and shoes found across the world's four corners is reproduced identically and sold under the Margiela label. In 1998, the designer unveiled his first men's collection and officially received the Haute Couture label in 2012. Around this time, Margiela took a significant step away from fashion and his label to become an artist. However, making his much-anticipated return to the industry, the eccentric John Galliano took over the reins as creative director of Maison Margiela in 2014. He is the man behind the eco-friendly "Recicla" line, where materials found in second-hand shops and flea markets are transformed into flowing skirts and unstructured jackets. Margiela's creations continue to spark inspiration in fashion lovers and great designers with as much magic as ever.
During a trip to Japan in 1984, Martin Margiela, still a young student, discovered the traditional Japanese socks called ‘Tabi’. The traditional design originates from the 15th century and separates the big toe from the rest of the foot, allowing them to be worn with sandals. Finding inspiration in this sock, Margiela created his first leather split-toe boot, mounted on a wide cylindrical heel. The Tabi boots made their debut during the brand's spring-summer 1989 show, where models walked down a white catwalk after dipping the shoe in red paint, leaving a strange scarlet cloven-hooved footprint. Although this distinct look made the audience feel slightly uncomfortable, no one could peel their eyes away from the peculiar new shoes.
This unconventional silhouette, still unknown to the Western hemisphere, was a runaway success. The Tabi became a staple in the brand's future collections for over 30 years. In the beginning, Margiela repainted unsold boots from previous seasons in different colours because he lacked the budget to imagine new footwear last. In turn, this resourceful strategy became a seasonal model for the shoe sector of the brand. Sales soared on the Tabi and have yet to slow down, making them nearly unobtainable.
Luckily, you can find the Tabi either vintage or second-hand on Vestiaire Collective, and you can cherish these iconic boots as much as we do. Over 15 years old, vintage Tabis are a true collector's item and a fashion lover's limited chance at a dream come true. Providing these legendary vintage shoes a second life not only uplevels your closet but benefits our precious planet.
The avant-garde Tabi boot has become Maison Margiela's signature piece, with countless collectors, season after season.
The Tabi is iconic, most notably for its radical innovation. To the devoted, part of the appeal is the extreme comfort, a shoe almost forgotten once put on. But the real draw, most certainly, is the silhouette’s irresistible allure.
The original Japanese model was always unisex, but Margiela reimagined his first designs with a high heel just for women. It was not until years after Martin Margiela's departure that the house launched a line of Tabi for men. More than 30 years after their creation, these split shoes still feel fresh and remain an Instagram favourite among fashion lovers looking to complete their footwear archives.
You can now revel in the Tabi's many different materials and colour variations, from ballerinas to pumps to thigh-high boots; there is a type of shoe for every fashion-forward occasion. Fashion Activists can rest assured that there is also a Tabi made from upcycled leather.
Men can stand apart from the crowd in a complete range of styles like lace-up sneakers, leather moccasins, or flat boots. The Tabi has even made its mark on activewear, giving a modern makeover to Reebok's famous white Classics sneaker.
The instantly recognisable Tabi boot continues to turn heads in 2021. When the bold and unusual design originally hit the streets, they caused surprise and confusion. Now a true cult phenomenon, the Tabi can be found printed on T-shirts, formed into a handbag, or reinterpreted in the form of gloves. We can't wait to see where this iconic shoe goes next.
Martin Margiela has always been known for the designer’s avant-garde approach to fashion. He pioneered an unmistakable style, celebrated for hard-to-miss rebellious creativity and an unusual approach to upcycling. The Retrofit model, aptly named after its retro-futuristic look, epitomises Margiela's core DNA. The oversized sneaker is deliberately cut and worn in all the right places and features an unwashed rubber sole, foam inserts, and iridescent leather lining. Riding the wave of the Dad shoe trend, the Retrofit cleverly blends two opposing eras. They have a thick, notched sole and old-school velcro straps reminding us of the running shoes our dads wore to our Sunday football games. Once again, the cyclical nature of fashion is confirmed.
If you're environmentally conscious, you already know that investing in durable, high-quality pieces is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint and consume fashion responsibly. Refreshing your wardrobe with second-hand pieces takes your commitment even further. Vestiaire Collective is stocked with a wide variety of pre-loved sneakers, where you are bound to find your new favourites. Hit refresh on our app or website to discover thousands of like-new pieces uploaded every day from our over 10 million members. A beautiful new pair of Retrofit sneakers by Maison Margiela in your perfect silhouette and colour are waiting for you.
Appearances can be deceiving. You may find yourself wondering why a new pair of jeans is already faded, distressed, or covered in holes and why it is that the fashion world is eager to add them to their wardrobes at premium prices. At first glance, Maison Margiela's Fusion sneakers look more like an experimental prototype than a pair of workout shoes. The discerning eyes of Maison Margiela fans will tell you otherwise: these sneakers are the ultimate in cool and the perfect style to give you the latest on-trend look. A$AP Rocky is no exception. The American rapper was spotted wearing a pair of Fusion sneakers at an after-party during Paris Fashion Week in 2019.
These sneakers are anything but ordinary, presenting a mix between a performance running shoe and an exaggerated fashion statement. They’re a mixed media compilation of trash with a thick sole stained with paint, reflective stripes, patchy duct tape, haphazard splashes of glue, and worn laces.
They are a work of art representing all the misfortunes of the fashion industry: an abundance of waste united with the manufacturing of parts—a satire of our society at our feet. The Fusion is available in several colours, low or high cuts, and even reiterated as an all-black hiking shoe.
The unisex Fusion is assembled entirely by hand, explaining its high price tag and bringing the ultimate luxury. If this unusual model makes your heart flutter, you can find it second-hand at a very reasonable price on Vestiaire Collective. Wearing these shoes will surely turn heads.
While today's top sustainable shoe brands are increasingly concerned about the pollution associated with the fashion industry, Martin Margiela has been an advocate of upcycling since the very beginning. A great example is from his first collection, where the trailblazing designer had his models walk the runway wearing tops reconstructed from old Franprix plastic bags.
Our planet's ecological emergency has prompted many forward-thinking brands to use recycled materials, fabrics from unused stocks, and upcycled vintage. As a consumer, the first step to joining this movement is to give up on fast fashion and invest in durable pieces that will last you years. We are here to guide you on your journey to becoming an eco-conscious expert.
By shopping second-hand Maison Margiela shoes on the Vestiaire app, you are participating in a circular fashion economy that prevents unnecessary waste and the use of new natural resources. To think consciously is to think like Martin Margiela-reuse the old to create new! Why not try upcycling styles you already have in your wardrobe? Chop your denim into shorts or convert a long-sleeve shirt into a tank top! You'll have a completely unique style, basically for free, to pair with your new (for you) shoes.