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Meet the artists turning the Tabi into an objet d’art

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Martin Margiela’s most famous creation becomes haute couture, hype-y homeware at the hands of Italian design duo Idea Generale

When it comes to the Tabi boot, there is no in-between: you’re either a die-hard, head-over-heels fan, or you contemptuously turn away the moment you spot a pair of the distinctive cloven-hoofed style. From the moment Martin Margiela sent them trotting down the runway for SS89, opinions have been as sharply divided down the middle as the toes that slip inside them. But all jokes aside – the resale price of the iconic boots has been skyrocketing across the course of the last few years, and hunting for an affordable pair has become an art form in itself. 

For everyone who lacks the time and dedication to seek them out, gave up on getting lucky, or is otherwise too afraid to check their account balance, there is another answer out there. Non-wearable but equally (and brilliantly) odd is the Tabi-shaped ceramic vase. First unleashed on the world at the end of summer 2020, the unlikely objet d’art is the brainchild of Idea Generale and now comes in a vast number of colourways and finishes spanning matte black to baby pink. “The idea stemmed from my need to have a vase at home in the shape of the shoe that I love most,” says Saida Bruni, one half of the design project. “Digging online, I saw that it hadn’t been realised yet, so I decided to put it into reality.” 

Together with her partner, interior designer Alfredo Garbugli, the 24-year-old began to take the steps to make her dream come real. First, she created a cloven-hoof prototype in a traditional, family-owned ceramic studio near Pesaro – a small Italian city by the sea where both artists are based. After the first experiments, they designed a Tabi-shaped mould to speed things up. “In the beginning, we wanted to keep the vases just for us,” says Garbugli, “but a lot of friends approached us and wanted one too.”

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Since then, the couple have been swamped with commissions. Every vase is made to order and glazed in your preferred colour. Of course, they aren’t the first ones to create their fave fashion footwear out of clay. Remember Diana ‘Didi’ Rojas, the American artist behind the viral giant ceramic Stan Smiths back in 2018? Or the infamous Hot Legs candle holders by Berlin-based designer Laura Walker? “We know that we’re not inventing the wheel,” says Garbugli, “but we’re just doing what we like.” The same could be said of Martin Margiela himself, given his OG Tabi was a fresh take on a Japanese worker’s shoe dating back to the 15th century.

When it comes to Bruni’s love of the Tabi, and why she’s such a die-hard fan of the style, she reveals she loves it when she’s wearing them and people “point at my feet with a bewildered look on their faces, which I think is quite funny.” It’s a feeling those who count a pair in their wardrobes likely know well. Bruni herself has five pairs from which to draw inspiration, including one dating back to the 90s. “They’re so comfortable. I love all the different Tabi models and hope I can have them all one day,” she adds (and tbh, mood).

Now, with a bunch of different iterations of the ceramic shoe in their arsenal, Idea Generale hopes to build their own niche – turning out unusual designed objects mixed with design classics like Cassina or Zanotta. That’s also the reason behind the less obvious name of the up and coming brand. “A general idea is something that is not defined,” explains Garbugli. “It’s something that could be anything in the future.” Stay tuned to see how the Tabi fanatics’ burgeoning business evolves.