WORDS BY STEPHEN YU
Founded in 1906 by British Immigrant William J Riley, New Balance began life creating arch supports. So-called due to Riley’s observations on how perfectly chickens poised themselves on their three-pronged feet, mother nature’s design inspired New Balance’s revolutionary flexible arch supports which featured three support points, just like a chicken's foot.
Eventually becoming an orthopedic footwear brand marketed at those working in professions where standing for long periods of times is essential like policemen and firefighters – it’s no wonder that New Balance models are some of the most comfortable sneakers out there.
After releasing the Trackster, a running shoe that was the first ever to be offered in different widths and to feature a rippled sole, New Balance became the footwear of choice for runners and track athletes. Their relationship with the world of sports still stands strong today and has grown to include skateboarding and soccer sneakers alongside more track orientated offerings.
What separates New Balance from their competitors is that in a time when most footwear is now made in Asia, New Balance still to this day use USA factories in Maine and Massachusetts, with 30% of its product made in the UK. It means they’ve forged relationships with the best suppliers in neighbouring counties, rather than miles away in faraway countries. The quality of the craftsmanship and materials is what sets New Balance apart from its rivals.
‘When it comes to quality, durability, and comfort, I feel New Balance wins overall when compared to the other biggest sneaker brands. I have a pair of 998s that I’ve been wearing for at least four years and I feel like they are going to last another ten.’ - Zack Schlemmer (Senior Editor at Stadium Goods)
If you’re finding it hard to navigate the New Balance model numbers, don’t worry we’ve got you covered. Read on for our list of the best New Balance models ever created.
The Best New Balance Models
New Balance 827
The 827 was designed to be New Balance’s highly responsive elite running shoe when it was released in 1999. Combining technical nylon webbing lace stays with reflective detailing, mesh uppers with suede overlay and thermoplastic caging for added support, this sneaker was at the forefront of sneaker technology and comfort. Now, it’s made a comeback in bright colours from Aimé Leon Dore with the nostalgic ‘Runners Aren’t Normal’ ad campaign that harkened back to the halcyon days of New Balance’s greatest print ads.
Released in 1996, it was claimed that the original design concept for this Steve Jobs favourite came from the Apple co-founder himself. The shoe was iconically seen on-foot when Jobs unveiled the iPhone. Crafted with suede and mesh uppers on a super comfy and dad-friendly dual ENCAP and ABZORB sole, the ‘Air Steves’ have become a recent favourite for collaborators such as KITH, JJJJound, WTAPS and Joe Freshgoods.
New Balance 990
The 990 was introduced in 1982, kickstarting the 99x series which had the sole aim of developing the best running shoes ever by combining stability, cushioning and flexibility. As the first running sneakers to ever cost over three figures, at $100 their expensive price tag along with premium pig suede uppers and cutting-edge technology made the 990’s something of a status symbol. Now on its fifth iteration, it’s taken its throne as the de facto originator of the chunky dad shoe trend, yet retains its appeal with those who just want the finest running sneaker ever made, leading to the tagline ‘Worn by supermodels in London and dads in Ohio’.
New Balance 574
The ‘5 series’ of New Balance were marketed as technical running shoes with improved comfort for off-road joggers. At a time when most of its rivals began to outsource their production to Asia, New Balance stood steadfast in its dedication to keeping the 57 proudly ‘Made In USA’. The 574 also saw a departure from New Balance’s affinity for tonal grey colours, being one of the first sneakers to come in a variety of colourways.
New Balance 997
Designed by Steven Smith – now design director at Yeezy and the man responsible for creating the Reebok Pump amongst many other classic sneakers – the 997 marked a new direction for the 99x series which hadn’t evolved much since the release of the 990. Compared to the 996, the 997 had a much cleaner midsole, a higher heel height and also a more sharp toed shape, which makes it one of the first sneakers to introduce the wedged toe box shape adored by sneakerheads worldwide. Not only this, it was one of the first silhouettes released specifically for women as the W997.
New Balance 998
The 998 built upon the relationship between New Balance and the chemical wizards at American company Dupont – most famously known for the creation of teflon and nylon amongst other innovative materials – to create their ENCAP II sole technology which made use of ‘ABZORB’, a minimum compression yet maximum energy generating foam technology.
'My two favorites are the 997 and 998. I like that they are not too slim, and not too chunky. I love that they came out in the mid-to-late ‘80s but still look completely modern. New Balance and their collaborators throughout the years have done a stellar job at making both models look good with premium materials and interesting colorways.' - Zack Schlemmer (Senior Editor at Stadium Goods)
New Balance 1500
Another Steven Smith classic, the 1500 still manages to look futuristic today even though it was created in 1993. The 1500 debuted the smaller embroidered ‘N’ logo, and although it’s original production run was in the US, today the 1500 is made in England. While the USA versions were made specifically for running, those made in Flimby, Cumbria replace lightweight synthetics made for performance with premium materials with aesthetics in mind. If you doubt the 1500’s running pedigree because they look so good, just know that these were Bill Clinton’s running shoe of choice when he was president.
New Balance 850
In 1996, 21-year old footwear designer at New Balance, Stephanie Howard, was tasked with designing a shoe that’d resonate with her youthful demographic. The elite runner she designed was a minimalist silhouette that introduced a number of firsts for the brand – it was New Balance’s first unisex design, and was also the first runner to remove the classic ‘N’ branding replacing it with a more modern ‘NB’ branding at the heel. The retro runner would see a resurgence in 2019 when it was chosen by brands such as Aime Leon Dore and No Vacancy Inn for a modern remake.
New Balance 860
Today, the 860v10 is the ultimate choice for runners in need of added support and stability from their running shoes. Rewind 20 years to the 90’s and you’d see that this silhouette caused quite a storm when it was first released. The 860V2 was constructed with breathable mesh uppers and futuristic metallic overlays giving it a more sleek and streamlined shape compared to its predecessors.
New Balance 991
Forever immortalised as the shoe Steve Jobs wore, the 991 was the result of transmitting the 990 silhouette through a modern lens. Created in 2001, the 991 builds upon the 990 giving it a more aggressive side profile and streamlined toebox, as well as adding increased ABZORB cushioning and durable rubber outsole. Born from a trans-Atlantic partnership, this British/American hybrid was manufactured by a partnership between factories based in Warrington, UK and New England, USA.
New Balance X90
A contemporary take on New Balance’s most iconic silhouettes of the 90’s, the X90 blends the brand’s signature craftsmanship with retro aesthetics yet modern detailing. Its design references the golden era of the 99x series, borrowing the 997’s ‘Hytrel’ strap and the 991’s midsole window amongst other 99x DNA, combining them the added comfort of knitted uppers for a sock-like fit.
New Balance 247
Designed for the always-on-the-go 24/7 lifestyles of modern day people, the 247 seamlessly transitions from day to night and back again for unparalleled all-day performance and comfort. Once again, this New Balance sneaker borrows from those that came before it, fusing the aesthetics of the 1300 and 576 silhouettes with the midsole of the 998. But while the 247 looks like its predecessors on the outside, on the inside it feels like something from the future thanks to the neoprene bootie which hugs the foot for a snug and super cushioned fit.
New Balance 327
A thoroughly modern design with a retro heritage, the 327 combines some of New Balance’s favourite 70’s design elements from its 300 series of runners in one shoe. It features the oversized N of the 320 (the first shoe to feature the now iconic N logo), alongside the lugged outsole of the 355 trail runner, in combination with the lightweight uppers of the SuperComp. First spotted on the Casablanca FW20 Paris runway show in a sexy summer-ready perforated white and green/orange colourways, the 327 has all the makings of a future classic with its contemporary flared outsole and subtly chunky silhouette.
As the name suggests, the New Balance 237 is, fundamentally speaking, a remixed version of the New Balance 327. It’s the 327’s younger sibling, if you will.
Many of the 327’s 70s-inspired design aspects are carried through to the 237, joined by a New Balance Como 100-esque midsole that protrudes from the heel, a zig-zag tread and a substantial amount of super soft ankle padding. And just like the shoe’s kin, the silhouette was pushed into the public eye by French-Moroccan designer Charaf Tajer, founder of Casablanca.
New Balance 550
The New Balance 550 is a late 80s sneaker model that made a big return in 2020. First released in 1989, the 550 was originally created for the basketball community (leather sneakers were extremely popular with b-ball players during this time), but the shoe swiftly became a lifestyle sneaker. Back then, young tastemakers were keen to wear the low-top lifestyle sneaker off the court as it was comfortable, striking and available in modish colourways. Today, the 550 is, once again, attached to the feet of the fashion crowd, predominantly thanks to Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis.
The Best New Balance Collaborations
New Balance x Casablanca
The New Balance x Casablanca collaboration is a win for both parties involved: ever since the two brands united in 2020 to release the Idéaliste 327, fashion’s inner circle has espoused New Balance and Casablanca has become a household name.
And although the brand has collaborated on several sneakers since the Idéaliste collection, the OG orange, green and white 327 is still our preferred New Balance x Casablanca sneaker – there’s just something about that Mediterranean colour palette. Oh, and it may also have something to do with the fact that Kendall Jenner owns a pair.
New Balance x Levi's
Levi's has a history of making great sneaker silhouettes, greater; and, over the last year, the American denim brand has turned its attention to New Balance’s extensive catalogue.
Thus far, Levi’s has transformed three popular New Balance sneakers with their rugged aesthetic – the New Balance 1300, New Balance 992 and the New Balance 327. And if rumours are believed to be true, we can expect a New Balance x Levi's 990v3 to hit the virtual shelves (for approximately five minutes) in late 2021. To say we’re excited would be an understatement.
New Balance x Junya Watanabe
We've learnt to expect the unexpected when it comes to the brands New Balance has on its collaborations radar, but the New Balance x Junya Watanabe collection still managed to take us by surprise.
By teaming up with the stalwart Japanese designer – famed for his Comme des Garçons sub-labels – New Balance has been able to create shoes that appeal to the avant-garde dressers amongst us (which is not an easy feat, trust us). In true Junya Watanabe style, the designer takes classic New Balance sneaker silhouettes and enhances them with text graphics, traditional colour combinations and premium materials.
New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore
Aforementioned, the New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore (ALD) collaboration has played a significant role in launching retro NB silhouettes back into the mainstream – most notably, the New Balance 550.
Teddy Santis, founder of ALD, has been working with the sneaker brand ever since 2019; each pair of sneakers Santis has designed for New Balance has sold out instantly. Evidently, Santis’ eye for design complements the tried and tested New Balance aesthetic, which is precisely why New Balance decided to appoint Santis as their new creative director in spring 2021. We’re guessing that means a lot more New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore kicks will be coming our way shortly. *Fist pumps the air*
New Balance x Salehe Bembury
There's one name that’s on every sneakerhead’s lips at the moment, and that’s Salehe Bembury. The sneaker designer boasts an impressive resume that includes important roles at Yeezy and Versace, and over the last couple of years, he’s been collaborating with sneaker brands – namely Anta and New Balance – on pairs of eye-catching creps.
Up to now, Bembury’s collaboration with New Balance has brought us two nature-inspired interpretations of the sneaker brand’s technical running sneaker, the New Balance x Salehe Bembury 2002R. The first of the two, named ‘Peace Be The Journey’ is inspired by Arizona’s Antelope Canyon; the second, named ‘Water Be The Guide’, is inspired by Havasu Falls, also located in Arizona.
New Balance x Joe Freshgoods
Ever since 2017, bellwethers such as Chance the Rapper and SZA have been donning the designs of Joseph Robinson, alias Joe Freshgoods. And in 2020, New Balance teamed up with the Chicago-based designer to create a Valentine’s Day collection on the ‘No Emotions Are Emotions’ collection. The drop revolved around two re-designed silhouettes: the New Balance 992 and New Balance OMN1s.
Recently, New Balance announced a third sneaker designed by Joe Freshgoods, titled ‘Outside Clothes’. This time around, the designer has chosen to experiment with the coveted New Balance 990v3 silhouette, first released in 2012. Joe Freshgoods' take on the 990v3 – set to release before the end of 2021 – is refreshed with earthy shades offset by vibrant hues, dual branding and speckled laces.
New Balance x jjjjound
In 2020, New Balanced partnered with Justin Saunders’ Montreal-based design studio jjjjound to fashion two New Balance Made in USA 992 sneakers.
Both pairs of New Balance x jjjjound sneakers embody Saunders’ minimalistic taste – the construction is kept classic; the colours are muted; the branding is kept to a minimum. And, as one may expect from any jjjjound product, the materials are of the utmost quality. To be honest, they’re the best New Balance 992s in existence.