New Balance finally has a competitor to the Nike Air Force 1

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If you read the headline and immediately thought of the New Balance 990, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you. While it is true that the 990 is New Balance’s most popular sneaker and the ultimate blend-in style, and the same can be said of the Nike Air Force 1, they are not. really competitors.

The Nike Air Force 1 is a retro basketball shoe that works as a high, mid, and low figure at the same time. It’s no-frills and traditionally features an all-leather upper. The New Balance 990 is a running shoe most commonly seen wearing layered suede, only comes in low cut (although what can you imagine a 990 high?), And has a much more profile. elegant than the AF1. So, although the two shoes are among the most popular of their respective brands, they are not really direct competitors.

Those who wear Air Force 1s don’t necessarily wear 990s and vice versa. So for years you could argue that New Balance didn’t have a direct AF1 competitor – until now. Enter the NB550, a late ’80s basketball shoe that New Balance took out of the archives last year and (with great success) re-introduced to the market.

The 550 was first relaunched as part of the brand’s ongoing partnership with Aimé Léon Dore. Teddy Santis’ label has long been a major contributor to New Balance and, along with New York City and, most importantly, the basketball legacy, ALD was a perfect fit as a partner in relaunching the game. 550. The Aimé Lone Dore co-signature has given the sneaker a much needed contemporary cultural weight. It was a style that most New Balance fans, let alone sneakerheads, had never heard of before. Had it been revived in any other way, it might not have gained as much popularity as it has so far.

But now that the 550 is safely one of New Balance’s most popular new silhouettes, it’s shaping up to be the brand’s first real Air Force 1 contender. The similarities between the two silhouettes are logical given that they originate from the same era. The 550 was released in 1989, while the AF1 was first discontinued in 1982. The overall shape of the 550 is slightly bulkier than the 990 and the sneaker is mostly leather. Although initially released exclusively in low-top format, the 550 has also recently been released as a mid-top, marking another similarity to the AF1.

Special edition collaborations and colorways notwithstanding – the rarity of which appeals to a wider range of consumers – it’s safe to say that the type of sneakerheads that would wear the Air Force 1 overlap more closely with those that would wear the 550. So where the 990 may have been an alternative but not competitor of the AF1, the 550 corresponds much more to this mark.

That doesn’t mean people will be jumping off the AF1 en masse just yet. Nike’s model has decades of cohesive releases, high profile collaborations, and cultural influence under its belt. The 550, meanwhile, was relatively popular in 1985 but was gone for decades. That mystery is definitely part of the silhouette’s allure, which can still fade, but it’s hard to say exactly where the 550 would be, if it had been in storefronts for the past 30 years, like the Air. Force 1 did it.

What is clear, however, is that New Balance has innovated over the past 12 months and can now move relatively authentically into the world of retro sneakers, which was not possible before. It comes at a time when New Balance is also breaking new ground on the performance side of the sport via an endorsement with Kawhi Leonard.

If used correctly – and doesn’t sink into the ground like so many new silhouettes have been by impatient brands over the years – the New Balance 550 could become a pretty secret weapon for the Boston brand. The 550 has started to establish itself as a respectable alternative to the Air Force 1 within the sneaker community. There is a long way to go and only time will tell what the potential of the model really is, but things are looking good.

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