If you know Ronnie Fieg, you know he reps New York (Queens to be precise) to the fullest, with the Soho and Brooklyn locations of his Kith stores becoming home to an enviable NB lifestyle selection. You’ll also know that the iconic New Balance 1300CL is his favorite shoe of all time, and if you’ve written that shoe off as something too sensible, come back in few years – you’ll understand one day. Introduced in late 1984 and targeted at serious runners, the 1300’s $130+ price point made it the Mercedes of sports footwear and one of the most expensive sneakers of all time. Taking inflation and earnings into account, it still might be the costliest.
Obviously that unattainable object-of-desire status wasn’t going to go unnoticed by hustlers engaged in the time-honored game of shoe oneupmanship, and the 1300 became a street-level icon beyond the short-shorts and singlets in New York, Baltimore and Amsterdam. It was all in that elite price bracket, but the shoe’s formidable comfort made it even more appealing. The 1300 was a premium leap of faith for the consumer — it didn’t need pop colors, visible technologies or anything else. It exudes class and the neutrality of the steel blue colours made it easy to wear with anything.
Working at the bottom rung of the retail ladder, watching sneakers for a living, a 13-year-old Ronnie aspired to 1300 ownership, creating a personal fanaticism that sustained itself while other brands and models hit the shelves, sold out, then played themselves out. This model is a constant.
We throw terms like ‘classic’ and ‘icon’ around to the point where we’ve become apathetic to them, but the 1300 warrants the superlatives. This shoe has stayed in circulation in a variety of US and UK-made forms, but the Made-in-the-USA variation remains the platonic ideal of what a sneaker could and should be – refined stealth for the connoisseurs. The cyclical 1:1 reissue for the Japanese market, the Flimby variation and the inline American represent the essence of New Balance. Who would have thought clued-up kids and adults (looking to re-up that reassuringly expensive fix) alike would queue for the 1300CL in the current market?
If it ain’t broke, there’s no point fixing it, but there’s nothing wrong with a respectful homage, and that’s where this Steel Blue 999 comes in. The 999 represents another key New Balance moment — 1986’s 995 was superseded by the 996 in 1989, before the 997 took the baton in 1991 for an altogether more progressive performance look. In late 1992, the 998 debuted and the 999 appeared in 1996 with the most forward-thinking NB look of the series so far, with a 3D midfoot and abZorb technology. Like the four digit range, these shoes didn’t come cheap, but no sooner had the 999 been released, than all eyes seemed to be on retro runners again.
That didn’t stop New York NB fanboys with the discerning eye for detail picking up on the 999’s shape and functional style. After years off the shelf, this model made a comeback in Asia, where it developed a cult following, but now it’s the perfect brand ambassador for a new generation globally.
Ronnie’s Steel Blue makeover of the 999 gives it some blue steel via the classic 1300 palette, but takes the opportunity to ramp it up with a painstaking mix of premium leathers and pigskin, finishing it with lacetip details and a quietly branded sockliner. This is the first global Kith x New Balance project and it channels Kith’s knowhow and reverence for the local scene — the past, the not-so-distant past and the present – in a single shoe. But obsession means the end product has to come correct, even if that requires no less than six samples in the quest to get the Pantones and premium-feel on point (keep watching the Kith blog for further details).
If you’re tired of generic boxes and that empty feeling after the internet-assisted fever pitch, Kith’s ethos of giving the customer a sense of value with each purchase is present, from the end-product to the custom packaging. The Steel Blue 999 will be released alongside a collection of Kith x New Balance clothing that debuts as a special box set for the first 50 in the line at the Soho and Brooklyn doors.
Consider this a passion project — three decades of NB fanaticism distilled. Funnily enough they’ll be released on Ronnie’s birthday – now you know that’s just meant to be!
See more in Sneaker Freaker Issue 24!