The Boston Renaissance Pt.1
Fifteenth century art is gorgeous. Works like Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel and sculpture David, and Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man are immediately recognizable and have been welded into popular culture worldwide. Similarly, literature from William Shakespeare continues to reverberate with new generations. Themes in his works like Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth are consistently recycled and rebranded for contemporary audiences. The Renaissance period of the 14th to the 17th was cool, timeless, and relatable, even in modern day.
High Fashion Conquers All
Most recently sneaker culture has moved upscale. Brands like Nike, Adidas, and Asics have turned their attentions upmarket, partnering and chasing high-end designers and fashion brands to punch up their footwear releases. Off-White, Kiko Kostadinov, Jerry Lorenzo, are just a few of the slew of names to garner attention by sneaker brands in recent memory. This new high-fashion focus has helped bring new light and attention to athletic footwear. Putting sneakers on runways and in office buildings, places they hadn’t been welcomed before, is the new norm for most brands. And for the most part, markets agree.
With the broadening of the sneaker market into these new realms and spaces, some fans have felt a little outcast amongst the glitz and glam of the upscale branding blitz that is the sneaker world in 2019. Despite this turn, from the heart of New England, Boston to be precise, there’s been a Renaissance, or a resurgence of old-school storytelling, quality materials, cool colorways, and familiar silhouettes.
Not All Heroes Wear Capes
Boston’s biggest home-town sneaker brand has done their best rendition of DaVinci for the past few months. Like the famed artist, inventor, writer and all-around smart guy, New Balance has been busy attacking the sneaker market from a multitude of angles. New silhouettes, resurrecting old ones, blending new and old into something unrecognizable, partnering with familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, the NB team has been doing it all.
Collaboratively New Balance has always been outstanding, but their past year of collaborations can stand up to any prior year of New Balance releases. The end of 2018 brought their long-time New York partner in crime Ronnie Fieg back to the team. This collaboration introduced the 997S and the 997S Fusion to the market along with bringing a long overdue Kith badge to the original 997 model. Tagging in United Arrows as well as Nonnative to lend some new perspective to the collaboration, New Balance dropped six new shoes on its fans, galvanizing the start of what has been a phenomenal 2019 showing. Next, NB teamed up with oft local partner, Bodega, for a 997S dubbed “No Days Off”. This project was an instant hit striking up a multi-week buzz on social media, and ultimately resell sites. Although, marred by a less than transparent or easily obtainable release, the sneaker gained celebrity attention and was seen on the feet of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Wale
Overseas, United Arrows & Sons was tapped to bring their subtle handiwork to the newly revised 990v5. Overlaid in soft charcoal grey suede, this 990v5 (which never officially saw US shores) heralded the arrival of New Balance’s most lucrative general release model. New York based modernists Aime Leon Deore and Todd Snyder amped the “relaunch” of the 997 by dropping three renditions between them of the storied silhouette. ALD’s two versions of the 997 dropped in subtle grey tones with yellow, burgundy, and royal accents. Coupled with packaging details such as three Aime Leon Deore labeled balls and a floral printed insole, the collaboration helped rekindle New Balance’s “The Intelligent Choice” slogan. Todd Snyder dropped a #PRIDE inspired 997 which brought in the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps as unsung heroes to highlight the LGBTQ community. With pastel and cream-colored suede and leather panels, Snyder’s 997 was the surprise hit of PRIDE Month’s sneaker releases. As if by pure Kismet New Balance also stumbled into a worthwhile relationship and partnership with NBA All-Star Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi’s ascension to the NBA Finals win and Finals MVP mirrored the rise of DaVinci’s Mona Lisa as the most recognizable painting on earth. The Kawhi partnership garnered multiple apparel inspirations as well as a Toronto Raptor themed 997 and 990v5. A multitude of colorways for NBs basketball silhouette the OMN1 dropped what appeared to be weekly snatched up by Kawhi, New Balance, and basketball fans alike. The crown jewel of New Balance’s collaborative releases for 2019 has of course come with Beantown blood-brother Concepts. After teasing the sneaker community with a bright fuchsia 998 in May of 2018, Concepts revamped their story to be told on New Balance’s new 997S Fusion. The “ESRUC” pays homage to the infamous sale of Babe Ruth’s contract by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, a move that many believe set off the 86-year World Series drought for the Red Sox.
New Balance’s diversity in the footwear space is blatantly evident not just in their collaborative releases but also in their wide range of in-line releases. New Balances “design it yourself” offering, NB1, was refreshed for the start of 2019 with the ever classic and coveted 997 model. By late-May, the 997 was joined by New Balance’s latest rendition of the 990, the v5. Updated for 2019, the v5 990 was introduced early in the year sporting its iconic grey and white suede. New Balance barely hesitated before dropping black as well as a navy iteration of the 990v5, all of which were seminal hits. Not a brand to squander merely updating and reintroducing old models, NB Boston also penned several new silhouettes. Hoping to capture consumers at the lower end of the spending spectrum NB Lifestyle graced the public with the Fresh Foam Roav Knit, X-90, X-Racer, 997S, and 997H. All these new models ranged in price from $80 to $130 but offered buyers fresh, comfortable, and colorful entry into the New Balance family.
While Nike has been the unmatched King when it comes to market-share and marketing prowess, New Balance’s success comes from places the swoosh has seemingly long-abandoned, quality and sincerity. With each release, whether it be a GR or a joint venture, New Balance curates a cohesive and thoughtful vision, that stretches beyond the previously associated grey and greyer footwear of the 80’s and 90’s. Quality leathers, suede, nubuck, and mesh swath each offering. The color palettes applied to each sneaker reflect thoughtful consideration rather than a regurgitation of previously successful colorways. While New Balance has moved to offering more Made in Asia products, their quality to cost relationship remains strong. Made in the USA remains an elusive prospect for footwear options, but New Balance still employs its New England factories with faithful resolve. There aren’t large dumps of upcoming releases on social media influencers or celebrity collaborations that dilute the brands homegrown and consumer attainable ambitions. One needs only to hold a MIUSA 997 to understand the organic, salt-of-the-earth roots from which each NB springs. New Balance’s 2019 success is based not on market-share or influencer clamor, but rather on recreating and revisioning the fundamentals of footwear, a wholly Renaissance reminiscent endeavor.
With a multi-faceted approach, New Balance dropped sneaker classics on multiple levels. Casual to hardcore buyers alike have been targeted. Like DaVinci’s portfolio, New Balance’s releases for the past 10 months have been exhausting, in a great way. What’s amazing about the team from Boston and their most recent stream of releases is that they show no signs of slowing down.
Written by: David Blackmon