New Balance has never been more relevant, what with sneakerheads coveting its revived retro runners and the elderly 990 finding crossover success with mainstream consumers. The New Balance 550, especially, is the silhouette to beat but can its reign continue forever?
Let’s back up for a second.
Aime Leon Dore made New Balance’s 550 an institution with its 2020 collab officially reintroducing the low-top silhouette to the world.
Since then, Aime Leon Dore and New balance have restocked their 550 collab, dropped new colorways and even revived the high-top 650.
Despite all of ALD’s sneakers, various in-line 550 models, and the many other collaborations — SIZE?, Joe Freshgoods, AURALEE, COMME des GARÇONS, the list goes on — New Balance’s “basketball oxfords” keep selling out.
This very site pondered whether the 550 was going the way of the Nike Dunk and deemed New Balance’s sneaker a true competitor to the omnipresent Air Force 1, as new 550 colorways kept rolling in and selling out.
Certainly, it seems like the 550 train can roll on forever. Despite a proliferation of damn near identical colorways, the shoes sell out as quickly as New Balance and its partners can drop them.
The appeal isn’t hard to understand. Render a fairly basic, semi-chunky low-top sneaker — inherently the most wearable height for footwear — in mostly neutral colorways and you have a winning formula on your hands.
What is hard to comprehend is just how in demand New Balance’s 550 is among even non-sneakerheads.
Aimé Leon Dore’s take on the silhouette topped Lyst’s Q1 2022 search rankings, for instance, and the 550 is perpetually sold-out on New Balance’s website while other trendy models, like the 2002R, sit.
And, sure, the collaborative 2002R sneakers sell just as quickly as the 550 but nothing can touch the effervescent demand for the latter model, which is the first New Balance silhouette that appears when searching for “New Balance” on Google or resale site StockX.
But does the endless rollout of same-y colorways compromise the 550’s identity? However handsome New Balance’s latest colorways may be, the constant availability must surely tarnish the demand, no?
After all, much-hyped sneakers only remained hyped because they’re unattainable.
Once a timely shoe goes mass-market — the Nike Roshe Run, the adidas NMD, the CdG PLAY x Converse Chuck Taylor — it effectively loses that niche cultural clout necessary to retain that IYKYK feel.
But that’s the thing about the 550: it was mass to begin with.
If a shoe hits upon a timeless shape in a way that’s juuuuust distinct enough to stand out without being too different from the rest, you’ve got a winner. And the 550, sleeker than an AF1 and less anonymous than a Club C, fits the bill.
This isn’t to say that the 550 is a bad shoe, by any means. It pays to perfect the sneaker as blank canvas.
That’s exactly the point of lifestyle shoes like the 550 — they can do it all.
For clarity, the term “lifestyle” generally refers to casual sneakers that’re often flatfooted and less technical than “performance” footwear. Performance shoes are usually high-spec kicks designed to help the wearer run faster, jump higher, get more energy back when walking, and so on.
Most other popular New Balances, like the 327 and aforementioned 2002R and 990, are running shoes whereas the 550 is a lifestyle silhouette through and through.
This is key: basic white court sneakers like the “Panda” Dunk and Club C are effervescent moneymakers that don’t parlay into fleeting trends and tech upgrades, unlike runners.
Swiss sportswear company On specifically designed a basic white court sneaker for Roger Federer, for example, simply because that shape has the biggest crossover potential.
The fact that he’s a tennis pro is a nice bonus (and he wears a different On model when actually playing).
All that’s to say that the ultra-normal 550 can’t suffer an identity crisis as a result of all the new colorways that look basically the same — it specifically rejects personality by design.
By repackaging something familiar as something (slightly) fresh, the 550 appeals to everyone.
Much like ALD itself, in fact, New Balance’s 550 doesn’t reinvent the wheel and that’s exactly what people like.