The All-Time Greatest New Balance 990s: Part 1
With its $100 price point, performance-driven design, and all-grey execution, New Balance's original 990 was a game-changer from the moment it got off the starting block, and NB haven't looked back since.
In the nearly four decades since the 990 debuted in 1982, New Balance have built upon its winning formula to create the iconic 99x series and each of the 990s proper successors. Given its outsider charm and today's dad shoe revival, it's no wonder that the likes of the 990v2, v3 and v4 have been at the forefront when it comes to some of the brand's most beloved and coveted drops.
So, for our first New Balance–centric All-Time Greatest piece, we figured there'd be no better place to start than with the 990s as we highlight OG bringbacks, regional exclusives, and impossible-to-find colabs alike.
From 1982's original, to Todd Snyder's recent beer-inspired duo, check out the first installment of our 990 retrospective below, and stay tuned for more of our all-time favourites.
New Balance 990 (1982)
‘On a scale of 1000, this shoe is a 990.’ That was the tagline that accompanied the 990 when it launched way back in 1982, and the shoe went on to completely change the trajectory of athletic shoes and New Balance, in particular. Four years in the making, the original 990 was not only the first sneaker to break the $100 price barrier, but it was distinctly clad in nondescript shades of grey to further emphasise its no-frills approach to competitive running – the look has been a hallmark of NBs, and 990s in particular, ever since. The combination of mesh and suede construction, moulded heel clips, dual-density midsoles, Vibram outsoles, and a greyscale paint job made the original an instant classic.
Hanon x New Balance 990v2 (2005)
New Balance followed the 990 with subsequent 99x followups throughout the 80s and 90s, but it wasn’t until 1998 that NB finally gave the 990 a proper successor with the introduction of the 990v2. It would take another seven years for the shoe to catch on as a cult-classic lifestyle go-to, and fans can thank Hanon for showing the silhouette a little extra love. In 2005, the Aberdeen-based retailer launched their own collaborative colourway of the UK-made shoe, opting for a unique colour-blocking scheme in neutral tones to highlight golden ‘N’ logos. Limited to just 198 pairs, the colab came complete with certificates of authenticity since co-branding wasn’t an option at the time.
Hanon x New Balance 990v2 Schoeller 3XDRY (2007)
Following the success of their first 990v2 collaboration, Hanon returned to the New Balance model in 2007 with a different goal in mind: marrying the craftsmanship of NB’s Flimby factory with the performance attributes of Schoeller textiles. The result was the first-ever NB release to feature 3XDRY fabric, and one that rocked a full black upper with splashes of orange and the requisite metallic gold ‘N’ logos. As the folks at Hanon recall, ‘3XDRY had never been applied to a New Balance running shoe before [and] there were challenges in the sampling process due to the stretchy nature of the material’. The colab was apparently none too popular at the Flimby factory, given the manufacturing difficulties and the handmade offering was limited to just 144 pairs.
New Balance 990v2 Germany Exclusive Pack (2008)
Unlike some brands, regional exclusives have never been a major focal point for New Balance, but one of the best-ever 990v2 releases was exactly that. Seemingly inspired by Hanon’s 2005 colab, NB cooked up a trio of similarly colour-blocked drops for Germany in 2008 – coupling neutral tones with luxurious mesh, leather and suede construction, while brown and navy starred on the logos, heels, collars and tongues. These days, they’re nearly impossible to find as they were reportedly limited to just 300 pairs in all.
DTLR x New Balance 990v4 ‘DMV’ Pack (2016, 2017)
The 990 wouldn’t be where it is today without the long-time support of the DC, Maryland, and Virginia areas, and DTLR paid homage to that legacy back in 2016 with a special ‘DMV’ edition of the newfangled 990v4. Grey mesh and suede dominated the drop as a nod to NB’s signature execution, but DTLR upped the ante with reflective ‘N’ logos to go with asymmetrical yellow and red accents as a nod to Maryland’s flag and the retailer’s own stomping grounds. Checker-adorned heels drove the source of inspiration home, before an alternate black colourway of the design dropped in 2017.
Stussy x New Balance 990v4 (2017)
It’s debatable whether or not a particular drop was singularly responsible for ushering in the era of the dad shoe, but Stussy’s 990v4s are as good a place to start as any. A seemingly unlikely collaboration when they first surfaced, the streetwear stalwart’s creamy take on the 990v4 made some subtle changes to the silhouette’s original formula by adding piping around both the eyestays and heels, while employing stark white, beige and off-white hues throughout. The clean execution made the runner infinitely more accessible, and turned many ‘heads on to a shoe they had never much cared for, providing a gateway drug to ever chunkier retro-inspired silhouettes.
Concepts x New Balance 990v2 ‘Tyrian Purple’ (2017)
Deon Point and company have been responsible for a bunch of incredible New Balance colabs over the years, but Concepts’ 990v2s from 2017 have to go down as one of their most underrated projects – NB-related or otherwise. Tonal execution and reflective applications were the name of the game here, as an all-suede upper of smooth and perforated panels allowed the regal ‘Tyrian Purple’ hue to wear the crown.
Aries x New Balance 990v3 (2018)
Silas founder Sofia Prantera and graphic designer Fergus Purcell – the dude responsible for Palace’s signature Triferg logo – have been collaborating on their London-based label Aries for years, but 2018 was when they truly made a name for themselves with what may very well be the single best 990 ever. Their take on the 990v3 offered up the most unique take on the 2012 runner to date thanks to an all-business front of grey suede and mesh while colourful turquoise, yellow and red accents popped off on the collar, lining and insoles. Think of the colab as an infinitely more stylish mullet, and one that’s far more coveted, too: the instant classic 990v3s were limited to just 75 pairs and go for thousands via resellers.
JJJJound x New Balance 990v3 (2018)
Justin Saunders’ Montreal-based JJJJound has evolved from an expertly curated, colour-coordinated digital mood board into a full-fledged design studio since its inception in 2006, offering up everything from premium basics like tees and bags to collaborative Garrett Leight eyewear, a Bassi bike, and Joya-produced candle. Saunders’ footwear has been the most-coveted of his projects, though, and his 990v3s were massively hyped from the moment he teased them on Instagram. They perfectly channelled the JJJJound aesthetic thanks to their Dark Green/Urban Grey colourway and navy accents. Naturally, the colab disappeared in a flash, and instantly became one of the more popular 990s to ever drop.
Todd Snyder x New Balance 990v3 ‘Ale’ Pack (2018, 2019)
New York–based designer Todd Snyder has been collaborating with New Balance ever since he spearheaded countless heritage-inspired partnerships during his influential stint at the helm of J.Crew’s menswear back in the mid- to late-2000s. That relationship has carried over to his own eponymous brand and, starting in 2018, resulted in the ‘Ale’ editions of the 990v3. A ‘Pale Ale’ execution was the first to raise the glass while its ‘Dark Ale’ followup went down even more smoothly thanks to its unique colour and streamlined ‘N’ logos.
Header image via Hanon.