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The Five Most Influential New Balance 550s

The Five Most Influential New Balance 550 Colourways

The New Balance 550 is a true 'zero to hero' sneaker. A budget-conscious hoop shoe from the late 1980s designed by a young Steven Smith, it sat in an obscure chapter of the New Balance history book up until Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis stumbled upon it while leafing through a vintage Japanese sneaker magazine and made the clairvoyant call to bring it back in September 2020.

Any shoe released in tandem with a hot brand like ALD is guaranteed to find favour in today's colab-crazy world, but what was shocking was just how influential the 550 became. It now boasts a swath of in-line drops every season as well as a packed roster of collaborators and is a stark departure from the heritage running silhouettes the brand's known for in the lifestyle sphere. To track its meteoric rise, we've rounded up its five most influential colourways.

Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550

Release date: October 9, 2020

Why It Matters: Call us Captian Obvious if you want, but there was literally no way the Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 wasn't going to be the very first shoe on this list. The four-pack of colours the New York-based brand created were the 550's introduction to everyone except die-hard vintage NB collectors, and quickly became one of the year's must-have shoes. They weren't the type of kicks you were used to seeing from New Balance, but thanks to some masterful marketing and clean colourblocking, they were delivered onto the feet of a more than willing audience.

This hype cycle continued in 2021 when four more colourways were released, and is going strong in 2022 with three more fresh pairs set to drop. Aimé Leon Dore's colabs were the eye-openers that made the 550's resurgence possible, and even with dozens of new pairs swarming the market they're still the most popular of all its styles.

New Balance 550 'White/Red' and 'White/Blue'

Release Date: November 2020

Why It Matters: Using a colab to introduce a new model or bring back a forgotten retro and then rolling that silhouette out as an in-line style is a bit of sneaker marketing trickery that's as time-honoured as the 620s your dad mows the lawn in, and New Balance used it to perfection on the 550. After Aimé Leon Dore reintroduced the model to a willing audience, it was brought back in two original colourways from the late 1980s: 'White/Red' and 'White/Blue.'

This in-line return without the marketing muscle of a partner behind it was the true litmus test of the 550 – would people still rock with it when no second name was attached? – and that test was passed with flying colours. Both pairs sold out quickly, an important development for the 550's story as it proved that the humble hoops model didn't always need a co-sign to be successful!

Rich Paul x New Balance 550

Release Date: December 10, 2021

Why It Matters: If you had to rank the Rich Paul x New Balance 550 on a 1-10 scale of 'unexpected' it would be an 11. Paul, a super-agent who represents powerful figures like LeBron James, John Wall and Anthony Davis through his Klutch Sports group is a kingmaker and string-puller, who, although not shy to the spotlight (he dates Adele, after all), prefers to move in silence.

Usually, agents make shoe deals for their clients – not get their own shoe deals. However, New Balance has always approached the basketball market a little differently than their competitors and giving Paul his own sneaker was a sign of how the man that makes the deals can be just as important and influential as the athletes that sign 'em. It also cemented the 550's place as a boundary-pusher, a silhouette used for new, unexpected and impactful colabs.

New Balance 550 'Conversations Amongst Us'

Release Date: April 15, 2022

Why It Matters: Crafted by Black Soles, a group of Black New Balance employees, and creative directed by Joe Freshgoods – the man responsible for the 992 'No Emotions Are Emotions,' the 990v3 'Outside Clothes' and a forthcoming 9060 'Inside Voices' – the 'Conversations Amongst Us' collection of footwear and apparel preaches the importance of open dialogue. One of the key pieces that aims to convey this message is a Freshgoods-aided 550 wrapped in a soft yellow canvas.

'It isn't just an apparel and footwear collection,' said Freshgoods of the 'Conversations Amongst Us' collection when it was announced. 'It's a timestamp and a deep dive into the importance of communication and community.' If you're making a community-focused collection, you've got to include products that the community will be drawn to, and the inclusion of the 550 in this offering is another acknowledgement of its standing at the front of New Balance's casual roster.

Comme des Garçons Homme Plus x New Balance 550

Release Date: TBC

Why It Matters: The only shoe you'll see on this list that hasn't been released yet is the Comme des Garçons Homme Plus x New Balance 550. However, it deserves its spot here just based off the strength of what it means. The 550 was made a streetwear darling by Aimé Leon Dore, given general release chops by dozens of in-line colourways, made into sport luxury by Rich Paul and given a deeper meaning by the melding of minds between Joe Freshgoods and Black Soles. However, the Comme des Garçons Homme Plus co-sign introduces it into an entirely different world.

When it comes to footwear, CDG Homme Plus are mostly known for their stark white, black or white and black takes on Nike sneakers both classic and obscure, though they have collaborated with New Balance on styles like the RC1300 and 57/40. They either remake icons or create entirely new icons, and their two takes on the 550 means that it can now be viewed through the same 'icon' lens as other CDG colabs, making it a sport sneaker that's worthy of the runway.

Honourable Mention: Don't Look Up x New Balance 550 'Dibiasky'

Release Date: December 17, 2021

Why It Matters: Seeing as the Don't Look Up x New Balance 550 'Dibiasky' is a custom, it can't be one of this list's core styles. However, it certainly can be an honourable mention! It represents a mainstream marker of the 550's explosive growth in popularity – Don't Look Up was a star-studded blockbuster, and the 550, a shoe that had only been back on the market for a little over a year, was the style that was chosen to represent it.

The target audience for this shoe wasn't one that would obsess over the stitch-by-stitch recreation of an original 1988 pair of 550s, or even care about the model's cultural cachet. It was more so that it served as mainstream pop culture's introduction to the model – 'Look at that movie shoe with real meteor fragments in it! It's selling for how much?' – when it was offered up at Sotheby's for a handsome $13,200. Though the movie came and went, this meteor of a custom kept the 550 streaking through the night sky of the moviegoing public's minds.

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