ARTICLE BY Ross Dwyer

The Five Most Influential New Balance 2002Rs

The Five Most Influential New Balance 2002R Colourways

The New Balance 2002R took a roundabout path to its current life as a go-to casual favourite. Originally released back in 2010 as the 2002, a then-ultimate expression of New Balance's made in the USA running shoe line, it was a $250 sneaker (roughly $330 in 2022 dollars) with a full-foot N-ERGY cushioning system that the ever-modest Ronnie Fieg once said was 'stacked with a suspension system better than most of your cars.'

After a decade in the doldrums, the 2002 was revived by New Balance Japan's creative director Tetsuya Shono, who combined its original upper with the midsole from the 860v2 – a shoe that had released to modest acclaim in 2019 – to create the silhouette that we know as the 2002R. The style we know and love today kicked off its run in September 2020 and hasn't looked back since. To chart some of the key points in its progress since then, we've compiled a list of the five most influential drops!

thisisneverthat x New Balance 2002R
thisisneverthat x New Balance 2002R

thisisneverthat x New Balance 2002R

Release Date: September 21, 2020

Why It Matters: The above-mentioned kicker-offer for the 2002R was a duo of colabs with Korean fashion label thisisneverthat. Though New Balance had been teasing a handful of other forthcoming styles over the course of 2020, thisisneverthat's duo of takes were the first two pairs to actually release.

Arriving in white/silver/black and grey/blue/black, the thisisneverthat x New Balance 2002R collection offered an artful interpretation of the colours seen on New Balance running shoes in the 1990s and 2000s. The first pair took its aged inspiration quite literally, adding a yellowed finish to its midsole, while the latter featured a slightly weathered sheen on its top half to communicate its inspiration. Though they didn't set the world on fire initially, they did set a high bar for later releases – letting fans of the brand both old and new that they could expect quality, craftsmanship and the inclusion of esteemed collaborative partners from the new model.

Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Peace Be the Journey'
Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Peace Be the Journey'
Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Peace Be the Journey'

Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Peace Be the Journey'

Release Date: October 23, 2020

Why It Matters: The 2002R had already had its first release by the time October 2020 came around, but Salehe Bembury gave it its first 'moment.' It's hard to fathom in 2022, but before the 'Peace Be the Journey' dropped Bembury didn't yet have a colab to his name: he was the vice president of men's footwear at Versace (where he'd created the Chain Reaction), and had stints at everywhere from Cole Haan to GREATS and Payless under his belt as well. Just like the 2002R, Bembury was a star in the making, and his 'Peace Be the Journey' colab was the beginning of a new era for designer and sneaker alike.

First revealed by John Mayer, the Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Peace Be the Journey' was big, bold, bright and fun-loving. You'd come in for its wild colour scheme and hairy materials and stay for its story – a design exploration of the great outdoors and the life lessons Bembury took from his daily hikes. For the first time, the 2002R was an 'it' item. Since the 'Peace Be the Journey' release, Bembury has amicably left his position at Versace to go freelance, starting his Spunge brand, releasing colabs with ANTA and Crocs, and as becoming one of New Balance's most influential partners by creating kicks like the 2002R 'Water Be the Guide' plus his series of 574 'Yurt' colabs.

In short, 'Peace Be the Journey' was a paradigm-shifting moment for Bembury, the 2002R and New Balance lifestyle product as a whole. This list wouldn't be around without it!

BAPE x New Balance 2002R
BAPE x New Balance 2002R

BAPE x New Balance 2002R

Release Date: June 5, 2021

Why It Matters: There was a time not long ago when even the idea of a colab between BAPE and New Balance would have seemed absurd. Why would a brand that had been fueled by pure, unadulterated hype for over two decades join forces with another brand that had been in business for over a century and prided itself on quality and craftsmanship with little use for hype culture? The reveal of the BAPE x New Balance 2002R showed how much the tides had shifted for both parties.

On the New Balance front, it was a camo-coated acknowledgement of how they'd become a beloved beacon of this decade's hypebeast culture without compromising any of their main principles and values, not an easy feat to pull off in today's of-the-moment, cosign-obsessed culture. For BAPE, it was a step into a different realm, one that garnered new fans and reinvigorated old ones. Just like the Salehe Bembury colab, BAPE's 2002Rs were totally unexpected and entirely on the mark, an appealing arrow shot directly into the heart of the sneaker world.

New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack'
New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack'
New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack'
New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack'

New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack'

Release Date: August 13, 2021

Why It Matters: At this point on the list, we've discussed three collaborations and no in-line models. That was largely how the 2002R's first year on the market went. Sure, there were a handful of in-line drops, but it was largely the colabs leading the charge. That all changed with the New Balance 2002R 'Protection Pack.' Created by New Balance designer Yue Wu, the 'Protection Pack' was made up of three ripped 'n' torn 2002Rs – 'Rain Cloud,' 'Phantom' and 'Sea Salt' – that were inspired by the concept of a 'refined future.' This was originally what the pack was named too, but sneakerheads quickly dubbed it the 'Protection Pack' – and what the people name something is what it's called!

To the surprise of nearly everyone, save for Extra Butter, the one retailer who had the foresight to arrange a special early release, the 'Protection Pack' was a hit. It garnered just as much attention as its more famous collaborative kin, sold out immediately and became one of 2021's defining sneakers. The 'Rain Cloud,' especially, is widely regarded as one of New Balance's finest shoes of the decade so far, and the 'Protection Pack' concept has been applied to both other models and a fresh batch of 2002Rs that are dropping later this year. It's rare a general release sneaker is such a needle-mover, but the 'Protection Pack' isn't just any general release.

GANNI x New Balance 2002R
GANNI x New Balance 2002R

GANNI x New Balance 2002R

Release Date: April 13, 2022

Why It Matters: A Danish ready-to-wear brand known for its extensive slate of womenswear offerings, GANNI has about as much in common with the 2002R's other collaborative partners as American football does with global football. However, that's exactly what's beautiful about the GANNI x New Balance 2002R collection.

The 2002R went from in-the-know collaborator's choice to streetwear favourite in just a year, and through GANNI's two collaborative iterations, it's now stepping into mainstream women's fashion and introducing itself to an entirely new audience. This shows off its versatility – and it certainly doesn't hurt that GANNI's iterations of it are undeniably eye-catching thanks to details like all-over prints and doubled-up heel tabs.

Here's to many more years of the 2002R's evolution and expansion!

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