The 574 Story

How to live forever

Words: Adam Jane Photos: Tim Daws

American’s booming economy of the 1980s fostered the rise of a new social group the likes of which had never been seen before. Obsessed with wealth and shoulder pads, ‘yuppies’ were fresh-faced young urban professionals who spent big on BMWs, cell phones, VCRs and Walkmans. They worked hard and played harder, revelling in their love of Ralph Lauren and sneakers with $100 price tags.

c. 1988: M574 Lost prototype [Made in USA]
M565 [Made in USA]

Rapid Progression

Thanks to this seismic social shift, the footwear market was primed for rapid progression. Aided by breakthroughs in manufacturing and burgeoning demand for top-tier product, New Balance kicked their R&D department into overdrive. Many of their most iconic acronyms were developed during this period.

In 1982, the luxurious 990 introduced the breakthrough the Motion Control Device, aka the MCD. 1986 saw the debut of ENCAP foam cushioning on the no-expense-spared 1300 model. The hybrid sole tech had been developed in partnership with the Moonstar company at a time when Japan was responsible for the world’s best polymer production. Great design is elevated with the use of quality materials, and ENCAP represented the absolute pinnacle of both.

Rural Escapades

The road runner market was redefined, but New Balance were looking further afield as yuppies steamed between suburbia and their country estates in their Range Rovers. The new 5 series of off-road runners delivered the versatile footwear that this new social class demanded for their rural escapades.

The 565 invited runners to experience ‘a land that pavement forgot’ with a focus on stability provided by a proto-ENCAP sole. In 1986, New Balance released the 575. Made in USA, the luxury trailblazer offered every feature that yuppies and hardcore ramblers desired. The 576 text: 576) was added to the 5 series family two years later, followed by the 577 in 1989.

As the leisure culture evolved to embrace a wider demographic, designers at New Balance re-examined the 575 and 576, lifting the best components from each to release the hybrid 574. The subsequent success of the model might give the impression that it was propelled by primetime advertising, big budget marketing and celebrity endorsement, but you have to remember, this is New Balance, masters of the soft sell. The 574 wasn’t promoted in magazines or plugged on television. New Balance held fast to their ‘endorsed by no one’ sports marketing mantra and the brand didn’t even include the 574 in their catalogues at the time.

1985: 565 advertisement
555 advertisement

The Go-anywhere Shoe

The truth behind the 574’s rise is prosaic. The shoe simply started turning up on shelves and discerning customers loved it. The design was straightforward. It spoke for itself, guiding its wearers across any terrain in supreme comfort. It didn’t pander to passing trends. It was exactly what people asked for at the perfect price point. Boldly venturing beyond its trail running pedigree, the 574 became the first true go-anywhere shoe.

Interestingly, the final version of the 574 was quite different to what designers envisioned at the start. One early sample, which has become known as the ‘Lost Prototype’, is an experiment with C-Cap cushioning in the sole. Another odd sample that looks almost identical to the 574 is labelled with a mysterious 573 tag. From sole tech to nomenclature, New Balance were clearly prepared to experiment with all aspects of a shoe in order to find the perfect proportions.

The 574 was also one of the first NBs to adopt premium synthetics. Ceracom was a man-made ‘leather’ with an oily finish that mimicked waxed hide, but unfortunately it didn’t bond well with the adhesives used in sneaker production. The vintage pair we tracked down for this feature is likely the only survivor in existence.

‘New Balance’s street clout was booming. Rappers such as Raekwon were dropping mention of NB on tracks, while a young Mos Def was even seen wearing 574s in promo shots for his Black Star project with Talib Kweli.’

The New Wave

The 574 remained virtually unchanged for the first 15 years of its life cycle. The recipe was undeniably successful and sales were solid, so there was simply no need for wholesale changes to the formula. However, while the US team continued to focus on the core athletic market, other regions were looking at the brand in a different light, sparking a new wave of interest that eventually led to the rebirth of the 574.

As a family-owned business, New Balance does things differently, varying their operations from region to region to cater to local preferences. Throughout the 90s, the Made in USA line was revered as a status symbol throughout Asia and Europe. While US- and UK-made 576, 1500 and 997 models were must-haves for serious players, the 574 quickly found favour with those seeking the same look, but without parting with big bucks.

Back home in the States, New Balance’s street clout was also rising. Rappers such as Raekwon dropped Newbie mentions on cuts, while a young Mos Def was seen wearing 574s in promo shots for his Black Star project with Talib Kweli.

‘Thanks to the simplicity of the 574’s design, it soon became the go-to canvas for New Balance collaborations. Over the next couple of years, thanks to a string of colabs with third parties including Eric Haze, Nitraid and Fiberops, Japan’s mita sneakers ensured the 574 was on every footwear aficionado’s radar.’

By 2003, New Balance was riding high. Their market share was up to 11 per cent. In Tokyo the brand represented the epitome of low-key cool with releases like the Mad Hectic x Stüssy x New Balance 580. When the 574 relaunched later that year – influenced directly by Japan and Europe – vivid colourways matched the streetwear vibe of the time. Tough, comfortable and reasonably priced, the 574 made an instant convert of anyone who put them on.

As documented in Popeye and FRUiTS magazine, the 574 was a vibrant and integral member of the nascent Harajuku street fashion scene. Over the next couple of years, thanks to colabs with Eric Haze, Nitraid, atmos, Undefeated, Fiberops and mita sneakers among others, the 574 was firmly on every aficionado’s radar.

Into the 2010s, New Balance began to remix the silhouette in every way imaginable. The slimline Sonic Weld offered a modern interpretation. Made in England versions added a touch of class, while the regular editions in heritage colours like grey, navy and burgundy maintained a sense of the shoe’s authentic New England pedigree.

It was around this time that photographers such as Tommy Ton and Scott Schuman hit celebrity status as they hovered outside runway shows and lingered on the streets of the world’s fashion capitals to document fashion’s elite. In 2011, coverage of the Pitti Uomo tradeshow in Florence was peppered with photos of New Balance on the feet of industry mavens.

By 2013, ASOS reported that their New Balance sales had shot up by 900 per cent – one third of which was owed entirely to the 574! Over the next few years, the 574 enjoyed frequent theme-driven releases that grew wilder and wilder until New Balance decided it was time to give the nameplate an all-out refurb. Known as the 574 Sport, the new-gen design reimagined everything that was great about the original source code.

M577 [Made in USA]

The Latest Chapter

Today, the latest chapter in the 574 story circles all the way back around to 1988. With countless variations made in multiple countries, there are bound to be minute details that drift over 30 years. Whether by accident or simply lost in endless retooling changes, the modern-day 574 had incrementally evolved. Of course, it takes a knowing eye to discern such small details, but the launch of the revised 2018 version of the New Balance 574 is an exacting replica of what a 574 should be – the perfect shape right down to the last stitch.

The New Balance 574 has never hogged the spotlight. Despite its enigmatic origins, it’s the underdog that succeeded on its own merits to become the highest-selling New Balance model of all time.

The 574 range is available now online from New Balance.

Next story Previous story

The 574 Story
How to live forever

574 Collector
Kevin Downie Interview

Shoichi Aoki
Fruits of Tokyo

All Time High
The Best Limited Edition 574s

Material Matters
Refined by design

574 Variants
The spice of life

Designer Minds
A Chat With The Creator Of The 574 Sport

Made in the USA
The Lawrence NB1 Production Process

The Shoe Surgeon's New Balance 574 Sport

2018 Releases
The 574 Revival