Discover more from THREE PERCENT RULE
The Illustrious Rise of the New Balance 550
A Masterclass in Archival Revival by Aime Leon Dore
The allure of Aime Leon Dore is undeniable. Often described as ‘effortless menswear dipped in the milieu of 90s rap,’ Aime Leon Dore takes the essence of early Ralph Lauren and adds a uniquely New York City perspective with nods to founder Teddy Santis’ Greek heritage. The Aime Leon Dore customer is a worldly, art-loving, mid-century modern design fanatic that loves earth tones. The expertly crafted campaigns collectively create a color palette that became synonymous with the brand; most notably the use of their iconic botanical green color. This botanical green color became the basis for most of their collaborations, especially their relationship with New Balance.
Teddy Santis and New Balance hit their stride in 2019 with the launch of the New Balance 990v2 and 990v5 - the cops eventually shut down the release on Mulberry because of the hype around the release. These were the chunky, more ergonomic silhouettes that make up the more mainstream New Balance archive. Most consumers don’t realize the breadth of New Balances archives, particularly their basketball models. While thumbing through a vintage Japanese style magazine, Teddy Santis came across the New Balance 550 and even tracked down a vintage pair from a collector. Paying close attention to how the sneaker aged and capturing the vintage details, the result was basically an identical model to the original pair. We see many general releases try to emulate vintage accents to this level but it’s always best executed in collaborative releases, mainly because of the shared premium resources of two brands and different design perspectives converging.
The release of the 550 coincided with an inflection point at Aime Leon Dore. The brands’ highly acclaimed F/W’20 collection had released and Aime’s social engagement on Instagram more than tripled from the last collection prior to teasing the 550. Backed by the expert product storytelling and distinctive colorways, the 550 was primed to rejuvenate a stale sneaker market dominated by Nike Dunks and Air Force 1s. The partnership with Aime was the debut of a larger three pronged product strategy:
1) Introduce a new silhouette with an exclusive collaboration
2) Cast a wider net with more accessible pairs
3) General release & ramp up production
*The difference between phases two and three are purely based on production numbers
Many brands tease new collaborations on the runway during fashion week. While the general public likely heard of the 550 for the first time through Aime Leon Dore, the 550 was also teased in a collaboration with legendary Japanese designer Auralee. Featuring a subtle off white color across the entire shoe, designers quickly realized the 550 is the ultimate canvas for collaborations. Outside of the menswear community, the 550 got wider audience engagement with the sports community with the release of the Rich Paul New Balance 550. The 550 officially released critical mass with resale values reaching as high as $1,300. New Balance was ready to make it slightly more accessible.
Tapping on legendary Chicago collaborator, JoeFreshGoods, New Balance created a version of the 550 very similar to the Auralee with more texture and storytelling. JFG has a wider following with the sneaker community than Auralee and Rich Paul, so this collaboration really doubled down on the conventional sneakerhead crowd. Slightly more attainable, the pair peaked at around $300 resale value, keeping in mind the $120 retail price. New Balance decided to slow down on the collaborations and release beloved colorways like university blue and orange, cleverly reminiscent of the highly successful collegiate Nike Dunk colorways, in limited quantities. Retailers and shoe stores started to get more stock numbers and as they created more FOMO, they began to slowly increase quantities to keep up with demand.
Rolex has the Submariner, Levis has the 501 Jean, and Nike has the Air Force 1. Certain products become the DNA of your brand and this is the dream of every brand marketer and product designer. Following this release, Santis was appointed as Creative Director of New Balance USA which allowed him to bring his iconic color palette to even more models - mainly adding a fresh component to the heritage silhouettes. Through Aime Leon Dore, Santis also revived the Rainier boot, a highly functional hiking boot from the New Balance archive. When you look at the scope of Aime Leon Dore’s relationship with New Balance, it started with classic heritage models but as more products are released, they go deeper in the archive. The 550 established Aime Leon Dore and Teddy Santis as the ultimate New Balance archivists, able to identify and resurrect the more esoteric, yet culturally relevant models. To follow up the success of the 550, Aime needs to continue to excite us with unique archival finds.
THREE PERCENT RULE is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.