We have made some truly barbaric sacrifices to pull off a sick fit. Most of us carry the scars of breaking in Belgian loafers, dead skin dangling from our heels like medals of honour presented to us by the Commanders in General of dank menswear. Some methods of breaking in shoes over the years from 80’s skin heads wearing Doc Martens in the shower to GORP enthusiastic heating up they’re climbing shoes with a hair dryer. Ultimately bearing little success and enviably the 1-2 week slog of destroying your feet will happen. I still vividly remember my 19 year old feet being chewed up and spat out by a pair of Van old schools I naively wore on a circa 10 mile hike through the Scottish highlands.
The dad shoe trend seen in recent times has seen a shift in the ‘no pain no gain’ mantra often associated with high end footwear.
Of course trainers have been a popular fashion item since the 70’s with Adidas Superstars and Nike Air Max’s offering a high degree of style combined with comfort. The 90’s nostalgic dad shoes penetrated the luxury sneaker marketand entered the mainstream in the last 2-3 years with brands like Balenciaga and Yeezy offering their own take on the style, but for me New Balance is the dad shoe opus magnum. Billionaire Steve Jobs famous for his under stated dress rocked the trademark 991’s for years underpinning the sentiment of ‘dad shoe’ and throughout the 90’s and 00’s NB’s would be commonly seen on the feet of middle aged daddies alongside some washed blue Levi 501’s.
It’s no surprise that 574’s or 991’s were the weapon of choice for any no nonsense males looking to go about their business. From a comfort and ease of use standpoint they are up there with the best. New Balances are also fantastically functional. Founder William Reilly originated the company as New Balance Arch Support after a fascination with chicken feet (this was 1906 I assume grown men stood around all day looking at chicken feet rather than watching TikTok’s) and hence the 3 point arch support was created. It took NB until the 60’s to manufacture an actual shoe but from there the brand grew, the 70’s running boom in the US helped the brand grow into a worldwide success with the patented 3 point support and custom width options proving to be an attractive option for professional and amateur runners alike. Despite all of this the technically impressive NB runners were reasonably inexpensive with prices in today’s market ranging from £60-£180 which obviously appealed to the casual buyer looking for day to day reliable footwear.
Recently we have seen New Balance go from a lowbrow mainstream driven ‘dad shoe’ to luxury sneaker with collaborations with the likes of Stone Island, Auralea, Casablanca and Aime Leon Dore. In 2017 NB created a collaboration department which may have landed in just the right era as the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic saw a rise in comfort and loungewear with New Balance being an ideal option for at-home activities, or for the occasional walk, jog or grocery shopping expedition.
The success of NB collaborations has been remarkable with the New Balance Aime Leon Dore 550 a possible contenderfor most popular trainer of the year among fashion people, the shoe flows like the Hudson River along the ‘sidewalks’ of New York’s most fashionable areas.
The reason for these very niche and ultimately cool fashion brands slapping there signature on the side what has been seen as a boring trainer? It could be down to the simplistic silhouette easily touched and reworked with multiple colourways while retaining its authentic appeal. But one of the major factors in the success of NB collaborations is down to head of collabs Joe Grondin and the work he’s put in to appeal to youth through various sub-cultures.
Despite the success there doesn’t seem to be any tangible overlap between collaborators from Joe Freshgood to Jaden Smith with Grondin himself quoting to HypeBeast “It’s hard to pinpoint that thing, we’re just trying to occupy as many subcultures as possible, and picking the most authentic brands to do that. Every brand occupies their own space, so there’s not much overlap.” Despite this they have maintained an element of spontaneity and have been a springboard for creatives that would fly under the radar of most, really appeals to people and is evident in the sales they are making today.
Popularity among of NB among mainstream celebrities has taken the trend from niche to normal fashion accessory. Hollywood’s flavour of the month Timothée Chalamet is a big proponent of the brand proudly seen sporting the dove-grey 997s and Jaden Smith-designed NB Vision Racers, as is Chris Pine, seen donning in Made in USA 990’s, YSL front woman Zoë Kravitz is also a big fan of the 990 silhouettes along with Kanye. While Rihanna has been spotted in 574’s on multiple occasions.
As well as the celebrity co-signs the brand have partnered up with some of the biggest names across music, sport and other culturally significant areas in an effort to convey its image to every facet of our communities.
So while this trend is hardly new or unacknowledged by the vast majority of not only ‘sneaker heads’ but normal humans looking for a cheap, fashionable and comfortable trainer, the rise of the NB empire it’s a breath of fresh air from the dominance of Nike and Adidas. It is particularly good to see NB capitalising on the collaboration market with the big 2 grinding out the same old shit for decades, NB are taking a different and more diverse view on the collaboration market, elevating creatives, interesting collectives and brands that are relevant to kids today. I for one am really excited for the future of New Balance and hope to see more random collaborations and comfortable fashion items being released for years to come.