The History of Maison Margiela: From Sandal to Sneaker
The Maison Margiela entry into sneaker culture began in 1999, setting a modern tone with its take on the German Army Trainer (GAT) style from previous decades. And it's that GAT design from Maison Margiela that set the fashion label on a sneaker path with ties to the GAT, the Japanese-inspired Tabi sock and a bevy of other sneaker takes.
Belgian designer Martin Margiela launched his Maison Margiela label in Paris in 1988 after a brief stint working at Jean Paul Gaultier and Hermes. While Margiela took a raw approach to the world of fashion, he's also known for a "faceless" public presence with nary a photo or interview of him available. And though Margiela left the label decades ago, the Maison Margiela team has kept that mantra moving forward, earning it the Haute Couture appellation in 2012.
The Maison Margiela brand's footwear history began in 1989 with the label's own take on a 15th-century platform sandal from Japan, known for a strap between the toes. From there, the Artisanal collection hit the runway in 1999, launching the sneaker game for Maison Margiela. It took its inspiration from the German Army Trainer, a shoe with unknown origins but well-known design — many believe Puma was the originator, although others think it was adidas. The GAT from the 1970s is known for supplying the Bundeswehr, or West German Army, with an indoor training shoe featuring a leather and suede upper and gum sole.
In the 1980s and 1990s, adidas created the Bundeswehr Sportschuhe. That shoe inspired Margiela to buy up old pairs of the shoe and recast them — sometimes with new soles or laces and hand-painting — for the Spring/Summer 1999 Artisanal show. The Maison Margiela shoe was then known as the Replica, complete with fresh designs and branding, including handwritten words on the upper.
The popular original Replica design had a shelf life, though, as it was an upscaling of a vintage production. To keep the design moving, Maison Margiela created its own Replica, using the same basic style and giving it a fresh perspective for each season. With the Replica sneaker's success, Maison Margiela was able to add a variety of styles to its collection, all Italian-made designs.
Maison Margiela's Most Popular Styles
- The German Army Trainer Replica design from Maison Margiela launched sneakers for the brand and gave a modern-day GAT adaptation new life from season to season. Easily the most recognizable model from the brand, the Replica is remade continuously in new colorways, often drawing inspiration from the early years when Martin Margiela himself was known to hand-write and hand-splatter paint across the upper.
- The Runner sneaker from Maison Margiela brings additional leather and suede detailing to the brand, raw edges and a signature white stitch on the back.
- The Tabi split-toe women's shoe has made an appearance for men via the Tabi Sneaker, still with the split toe inspired by both the traditional 15th-century Japanese sock and the Maison 1989 debut collection.
- The Evolution sneaker offers a mix of canvas, calfskin and suede atop rubber soles.
- A DDSTCK sneaker takes inspiration from 1980s style with nubuck leather and performance materials in both a low-top and high-top version. The Italian-made shoes are "purposefully destroyed" to offer a well-worn aesthetic.
- A low-top Fusion, with a retail price closing in on $1,600, continues that raw, worn look in calfskin and mesh.
Key Maison Margiela Collaborations
While Maison Margiela first turned heads with an H&M clothing collaboration in 2012, the sneaker community got its own take on an unexpected partnership when Margiela and Reebok paired on a mix of designs in 2020 and 2021. The collaboration on the original 1994 Instapump Fury in 2020 comes distinct by mixing everything from multiple types of leather with polyester, elastane and crocodile prints with Tabi detailing.
The 2021 collaborations take two classic Reebok styles and give them the Maison Margiela Tabi treatment. The Club C Maison Margiela combines Reebok's Club C tennis shoe into a single piece of flat leather with a scanned image of Reebok's original Club C shoe and Tabi detailing. The Classic Leather from 1983 gets rebuilt to accommodate the Tabi silhouette with Nappa leather.
Maison Margiela in Popular Culture
The raw styling of Maison Margiela, combined with its historical ties in footwear, whether Tabi or GAT, have given the brand a unique position in both the fashion and sneaker industries. By entering the sneaker world early, Margiela set the tone for a truly modern GAT design and is often known as the standard for the German Army Trainer of the 21st century.
Collectibility and Value of Maison Margiela Sneakers
A mix of styles has allowed Maison Margiela designs to remain popular on the resale market. With its unique blend of materials and styling, the Fusion design can often fetch around $600 for the Pink design, even if its retail price was higher. The Replica, though, will always attract attention.
With so many seasonal options, fans can find plenty to chase, with some of the most popular garnering over $450 on the resale market. The recent Reebok collaborations also have a following, with the trio of designs in the $500 to $700 range.