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The Collectors: The Biggest New Balance 997 Nuts on the Planet

Date: January 26 2019

By: Woody

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Scouring all four corners of the globe, we managed to track down the most dedicated New Balance 997 nuts in existence. From never-seen-before vintage pairs to custom creations, enjoy the ultimate 997 retrospective!

‘This white leather 997 with the blue accents is the rarest of the three OG releases. Among New Balance aficionados, this is the Holy Grail of Holy Grails! Jene Conrad picked them up around 2010 when a well-known sneaker collector liquidated their entire stock. They are remarkably well-preserved for their age, especially the Polyurethane midsole, which is prone to crumbling. This is quite possibly the only deadstock vintage pair left in the world.’ 

Woody, Sneaker Freaker founder

M997 (1990)

M997 (1990)

‘My all-time favourite is the OG in grey with the reflective ‘N’ logo. That diesel midsole and pigskin suede mixed with mesh is pure perfection. The 997 is good in any climate. It’s indestructible. Throwing that Brolic Wedge midsole with the ill ENCAP unit onto a perfectly revamped upper is dope. When the USA-made reissue rumours hit the forums I was verklempt. I copped multiples!’

Mike ‘Crispy’ Coyle

‘It’s hard to know what New Balance produced because these shoes were truly handmade, which means that strange variances are common. The 997 wasn’t exactly scarce in its day, but vintage pairs are still one of the hardest New Balances to track down.’

Matt Kyte, 997 collector

CM997BR (1990s)

CM997BR (1990s)

M997WG (1994)

M997WG (1994)

997LB (Mid-90s)

997LB (Mid-90s)

‘I started collecting New Balance back in 1994. By then the 997 was already replaced by the 998. Vintage pairs are scarce! Even though I have searched for close to 20 years, I still don’t have an OG USA-made pair in grey! This orangey leather Asia-made 997 has the plasticy ‘N’ logo and the awesome triangle perforation pattern on the toe.’

Richie Roxas, 997 Collector

997LF (Mid-90s)

997LF (Mid-90s)

Nb 997 Purple Leather

997LV (Mid-90s)

Nb 997 Purple Leather Heel

997LV (Mid-90s)

CM997LG (Mid-90s)

CM997LG (Mid-90s)

‘New Balance is the only sports brand that keeps the handmade process of making shoes alive. When it comes to the 997, I’m crazy about the Asia-made 997 in suede with the neon plastic ‘N’ logo from the late-90s. In fact, all of the CM997 versions are super rare!’

Tiago Ramos, 997 collector

Richie Roxas

Richie Roxas

‘Back in 1998, I was at the NB outlet in Boston. They had the 997.5 for $20 but I skipped because I was broke. My best friend copped and his dad ended up using them to mow the lawn! I still bug him but they’re long gone. Would’ve tripled up if I knew what I know now. They are beyond rare!’

Richie Roxas, 997 collector

Nb Phantaci 997 5 The Orcs

PHANTACi 997.5 Jay Chou 'The Orcs' (2016)

Sneaker Freaker 997.5 'Tassie Tiger' (unreleased sample)

Sneaker Freaker 997.5 'Tassie Tiger' (unreleased sample)

PHANTACi 997.5 Jay Chou 'Chaplin' (2016)

PHANTACi 997.5 Jay Chou 'Chaplin' (2016)

‘The Beauty&Youth 997.5 was only sold in Japan, so it is a rare sneaker that is not easily found. It’s curious and interesting that the shoe is so well remembered today.’

Poggy, United Arrows & Sons director

‘I have a full pair [of Beauty&Youth 997.5s] and they’re still deadstock! They were easily the hardest shoe in my entire collection to track down. They have been a Grail since I first saw those pictures, and I had to trade a lot to get them. The larger sizes are very, very rare. I might have the only deadstock pair in size 10.5 in the world.’

Ronnie Fieg, Kith CEO 

Nb 997 White Green

Reverse 997.5 (998 upper with 997 sole)

‘I have about 30 pairs of different 997s in my hands. The most special pair is actually a 997.5, which has the 997 sole and the 998 upper. Yes, you are not mistaken! I still can’t find any information about this shoe, and I’ve only seen two pairs ever. I don’t know if it was a production error or just a strange one-off sample. Hopefully we will find out the story at some point!’ 

Shunhang Li, 997 collector

Nb 997 Duck Camo

M997NM 'Duck Camo' (2018)

M997CDG 'Coumarin' (2018)

M997CDG 'Coumarin' (2018)

M997NSB 'Home Plate' (2018)

M997NSB 'Home Plate' (2018)

‘I was too young when the 997 was originally released, and I had to wait a very long time for the reissue, so the pressure was immense, especially since I’m a size 13! Thankfully New Balance got it 100% right. The 997 is now a wardrobe staple, which speaks volumes for the brand’s ability to maintain relevance. I love that New Balance always stays true to themselves.’

Jason Paparoulas

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Photos: Dan Purnell, Jason Paparoulas, Jene Conrad, Manuel Dominguez, Shunhang Li & Tomás Arriegas

This feature was originally published in Sneaker Freaker's New Balance 997 book. For a look at the 997's history, read about its journey to cult status or hit up our interview with designer Steven Smith. For a look back at United Arrows' 997.5, read our interview with UA's director, Poggy, or hit our interview with Ronnie Fieg to see how he reimagined the 997. For a look at some other obscure 997s, check out our interview with Matt Kyte.

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