At first, it seemed like the average New York City meet-cute: girl passes boy in SoHo; girl goes on first date with boy, which leads to second date; girl eventually invites boy to her apartment, where the relationship is consummated.
Then, in the morning-after glow, is where the plot diverges from sappy rom-com to mystery thriller, replete with a missing pair of $1,000 designer shoes, a TikTok public shaming, fashion-obsessed internet sleuths, potential infidelity, gaslighting, dozens of media stories and one very lucky small knitwear brand.
Alexis Dougé, a 25-year-old social media coordinator at Chillhouse, a wellness company, said she was walking in downtown New York City when she locked eyes with a handsome stranger. A message popped up on Ms. Dougé’s Tinder that evening from someone she’d matched with previously, a 23-year-old with a silver nose ring and a well-kept mustache. “Hey did I see you downtown?”
His name was Josh, and he wanted to know if she was interested in getting a drink. Ms. Dougé said yes. (Ms. Dougé shared these details and others in an interview with The New York Times; Josh declined to comment.)
The two spoke about their shared appreciation for fashion, said Ms. Dougé, who moved to New York to get her master’s degree at Parsons. During the pandemic, she started a knitwear brand, Maddi and Dani. The two bonded especially over the luxury fashion house Margiela, and its line of shoes called Tabis.
The shoes, with their signature cloven toe, are polarizing — you’re either obsessed with them or think they’re hideous. Ms. Dougé and Josh were among the obsessives.
Pretty soon the two were waking up in Ms. Dougé’s apartment, having spent the night together. As he was getting ready to leave, Ms. Dougé said, Josh told her he wanted to show her a Spotify playlist. She handed her phone to him, but after a bit of searching, he handed the phone back and said he couldn’t find it.
A few hours later, when Ms. Dougé was doing work on her computer, she glanced at her shoe rack and noticed something was missing. “I’m like, where are my Tabis?” Ms. Dougé said in a TikTok video she later posted. “I look under my bed, in my suitcase, in my closet.”
She can’t find them anywhere. In the video she said she didn’t want to be accusatory, but she wants to ask Josh if he had seen them, since the two were just talking about them. “I go to Tinder to message him — unmatched. He’s gone,” she continued in the TikTok.
So Ms. Dougé went to her call log to call him but couldn’t because he seemed to have deleted his number from her phone.
The TikTok, titled “NYC fashion girlies beware,” and posted shortly after the incident, ends with an expletive-filled rallying call to avoid Josh on TikTok. The video has been viewed nearly a million times and spawned several updates.
Within hours of posting the video, Ms. Dougé said, TikTok and Twitter users had sent Josh’s full name, Instagram handle and phone number to Ms. Dougé. They’d also sent her a piece of alarming information: Josh had a girlfriend, and the girlfriend had recently posted a photo of herself wearing the same Mary-Jane Tabis that had gone missing from Ms. Dougé’s apartment.
When Ms. Dougé confronted Josh over text message, he vehemently denied taking the Tabis. But when she sent him the screenshot of his girlfriend’s Instagram story showing her wearing the same shoes, he finally admitted it. “Ight you got me,” he texted her. “I’ll get them back to you give me a time and place & I’m just asking to remove the tik Tok is all.” He followed up with a meme, a GIF of a man shrugging his shoulders guiltily.
The two arranged for an exchange of the Tabis on the street, which Ms. Dougé also recorded and posted to TikTok. In the video, she is seen holding the shoes while talking to a young man with a bike, who appears unrepentant. “I honestly asked him like: why the hell did you do this?” Ms. Dougé said. “And he was like, ‘I don’t know,’ and he just kept shrugging and smiling and being like, ‘I don’t know, I just didn’t think you were going to catch me.’”
Much like the West Elm Caleb tale of yore, the story of the TikTok Tabi thief has gone viral in its own hyperlocal way, a niche fixation within a specific set of young, chronically online New Yorkers. The story does seem to have all of the elements of a viral hit: two attractive compelling characters; a deliciously twisted, low-stakes scam; a potential cheating scandal; a satisfying ending (the victim of the story got her shoes back) that leaves room for yet more intrigue (what does the girlfriend think of all this?).
Ms. Dougé said she has to wear sunglasses every time she leaves her Brooklyn apartment now, because she is constantly getting recognized: “They’ll say, ‘Glad you got your Tabis back!’” She also said she has received a surprising onslaught of online hatred. “Maybe it wasn’t his full intention, but he saw that I was in a vulnerable position and he used that to his advantage,” she said. “And even after the fact, the people who are slut shaming me and saying that it was my fault and that I deserve it for sleeping with a random person and stuff — I really have to question why they’re saying that and why they’re painting me as the person at fault.”
Internet vitriol aside, Ms. Dougé said she believes the whole saga did pay off for one unwitting party: Margiela. Dozens of commenters have posted that they’ve been on the hunt for a pair of the Mary-Janes ever since her post went viral, she said.
Ssense, an online store, offered to send her a new pair of Tabis “just in case,” in a message reviewed by The Times. (Neither Ssense nor Margiela responded to a request for comment.)
As for Tinder? Ms. Dougé said she has deleted the app.
You may catch her on Hinge or Raya, but her shoe collection will remain locked up tight from now on — especially her Sandy Liang Salomons, which she says are next season’s most stealable shoe.