New Balance always have one foot in the past and the other in the future, straddling the times like an omniscient buckaroo. This year, there have been modern revisions of old favourites, one-to-one remakes of classics and plenty of surprises. If New Balance haven't done something to pique your interest this year, then we suggest getting that dial-up connection checked because you’re lagging big time.
For dyed-in-the-wool New Balance fans, the 99x series never goes out of style. For the rest of the population, it can tend to fade into the background. The prototypical grey shoe has humility stitched into its aesthetic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not packing an arsenal of performance tech that’ll block up your bandwidth and wig-out your Wi-Fi.
This year, the original 990 celebrated its 35th birthday. That marks three-and-a-half decades of the MCD, grey pigskin suede and no-expense-spared performance design. To mark the occasion, the Boston-based brand shone a spotlight on the heritage runner, its progeny and the most recent of all, the 990v4. While just about every shoe possessing the 99-prefix had a moment in the sun some time over the past 12 months, it’s been the most recent addition to the family that’s given us the most to smile about.
The 990v4 has nurtured a strong, cult-like following and kept alive the dying notion of distinctive regional style. In an age of web-based trends that explode and fizzle out just as quickly, the street scene of East Coast USA has managed to keep its 990v4 obsession under the radar. Thanks to the militant dedication of its fans, the unassuming sneaker has been able to ride high this year with collaborations such as the creamy white Stüssy drop, as well as core classics like the Made in USA grey and black versions.
The 574 is New Balance’s bestselling shoe of all time. Not only that, but the go-everywhere shoe managed to rise to this position despite a distinct lack of supporting fanfare over the years. That’s not to say it hasn’t enjoyed definitive moments – it’s certainly won over a great many fans – but the 574 got to where it is today simply by being a really, really good shoe for a really, really reasonable price.
With that taken into consideration, it makes perfect sense that New Balance designers would want to have a crack at rebuilding the classic design steered by today’s technological knowhow. The resulting 574 Sport is without a doubt the ultimate combination of classic aesthetics, modern performance and comfort. Every part of the shoe was revised with the latest in materials and technology, but the standout element has to be the Fresh Foam sole.
At a glance you can tell there’s something special happening behind the textured foam facade. The 574S marks the first ever complete retooling of Fresh Foam for a lifestyle shoe. Up until now, the primo performance compound had been designed for running releases. Of course, there are examples of Fresh Foam soles making their way onto lifestyle silhouettes, but those had simply been transplanted onto a new upper. The 574S has its very own sole unit, a more pronounced drop, a newly designed compression pattern and a little chunk of ABZORB foam under the heel for good measure.,
If there’s one thing New Balance excel at it has to be subtlety. It can be an underrated trait, but it’s one of those things you don’t notice unless it isn’t there. When it comes to collaborations, subtlety is key. A brand can yell and scream about their cool new collaborator, and they can tell you all about how hype they think the shoe should be, but the more noise they make, the cornier it gets.
Through 2017, New Balance exercised their collaborative calm over and over with seriously well-executed partnerships. We saw the Ronnie Fieg 574S with its interchangeable N logos, mita’s 'Blue Hour', Concepts’ Trailbuster, Norse Projects, Stance – there was even a sly Pepsi collaboration slipped into the mix. But the one that really got our palms sweating was the Concepts 999, which re-released in the much-loved ‘Kennedy’ colourway accompanied by an all-new colour flip known as the ‘Cubano.’
New Balance have always marched to the beat of their own drum, and this year was no exception. Their heritage styling and highly focused athletic tech continues to speak for itself in a landscape crowded with copy-cat hypebeasts. For those not yet converted, we’ll pull the ‘you’ll understand when you’re older’ card. This is a brand for refined sneaker palettes – we all get there in the end.