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 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 colors 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 favorite 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 favorite for collaborators such as KITH, JJJJound, WTAPS, and Joe Freshgoods.
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’.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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 ’90s 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.
Forever immortalized 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.
A contemporary take on New Balance’s most iconic silhouettes of the ’90s, 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.
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.
A thoroughly modern design with a retro heritage, the 327 combines some of New Balance’s favorite 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 colorways, the 327 has all the makings of a future classic with its contemporary flared outsole and subtly chunky silhouette.