Susannah Frankel: 'The tabi boot has always frightened me'
Much is made in fashion of the 'heritage classic' – the Hermès Kelly or Birkin bag, the Burberry trenchcoat, the Gucci loafer and so forth. Never quite so conspicuous is the timeless piece of clothing and/or accessory that becomes inexorably linked to an avant-garde label. By its nature, this will never have quite the profile of its essentially bourgeois counterparts. Neither will it be so widely appreciated. And that, to the right fashion follower, at least, makes it all the more desirable.
The Comme des Garçons dhoti pant is one such example; the Yohji Yamamoto black, asymmetric gown another. And then there's the Maison Martin Margiela tabi boot. The latter may be crafted in the softest calfskin, but any resemblance to the more mainstream 'must-have' fashion accessory stops there. With a split toe – not as difficult as it may sound from the point of view of comfort, at least – and a heel that varies but that is predominantly less-than-spiky, wooden and cylindrical, it is the perfect footwear for the woman who finds the cartoonish proportions of any number of so-called 'towering platforms', not to mention strappy, barely-there sandals, a fashion cliché too far. And that, presumably, is why it has been successful for over 20 years.
The tabi boot has always frightened me just a little. It's based on a Japanese slipper but a cloven hoof (yes, the devil) also springs to mind. And, in the end, that's why I knew I had to have a pair. My relationship with heels – or lack of it – is well-charted but, even I have to admit, a little lift would do my appearance no harm at times. And this is a lift with the mother of all differences: the footwear in question is about as far from the stiletto-wearing woman as eye-candy/trophy wife/girlfriend stereotype as it is possible to imagine a shoe being. And that is the point. More remarkable still, I can actually walk – and even, at a push, run – in my tabi boots. That might be a minor consideration to those in permanent possession of a chauffeur-driven Mercedes, but for the rest of us it is the best of all possible fashion news.
Susannah Frankel is Fashion Editor of The Independent
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