Ten years ago, if you told a sneakerhead that one day New Balance would be the hottest brand in the industry, you’d have been laughed off of the NikeTalk forums. But you also would have had last laugh. A roaring Dad Shoe wave in the late 2010s certainly helped in repositioning the brand, and a new wave of savvy collaborations with boutiques and designers over the last few years (KITH, Salehe Bembury, Jaden Smith, and Joe Freshgoods among them) have kept the heat high. But no collaborator has been quite as pivotal in elevating the New Balance name (and its own along with it) over the last couple of years than Aimé Leon Dore.
ALD is the brainchild of Teddy Santis, a Queens native who’s turned the brand into a New York establishment by bringing the regional streetwear and prep aesthetic of the ‘90s into the modern era. The result of the old-school mentality is a collection of fits that look just as good on you as they would your dad and granddad.
Santis has set the brand apart from competitors over the years by prioritizing collaboration only when it’s in line with the direction and ethos of the brand. That calculation tends to pay off, with recent partnerships with Porsche and Woolrich making waves. But the brand’s partnership with New Balance might be the thing that’s brought the most eyes to what they do. In one another, the two houses found a match in sensibility, quality, and design. It’s been less than three years since their first collab hit shelves and they’re already among the most hyped duos in the industry-so much so that earlier this year Santis came on board as the new creative director of New Balance Made in USA. With a recent preorder-driven move upending traditional sneaker release methods and a surprise new drop hitting this month, the partnership is due for a deep dive as its most successful year yet winds down. Here’s how ALD and New Balance forged the most hyped partnership in sneakers, in eight shoes.
The brands first collaborated on the reliable New Balance 997, but the shoes themselves were almost upstaged by a memorable ad campaign. It featured New Balance’s trademark minimalist design adorning photos of an older New York native clad in a distinctly New York fit—wool topcoat, sweats, and a thick, worn-in scarf. I said almost: the 997 is the sort of classic that’s hard to screw up, and ALD made a statement by not aiming to be too bold to begin with. Both shoes in the collection build from a palette of classic multi-toned grey suedes, with the pops of color coming around the tongue and sock liner. Branding is low-key, with the only notable touch being a tag on the insole. The lesson: You don’t have to plaster your logo across a sneaker when the work speaks for itself this well. As would become commonplace with their New Balance sneakers, an array of apparel launched alongside the shoes, with cardigans, tees, and shorts included in the mix among others.
990 V2 & V5
Shortly after dropping the 997, the brands came back with an ALD-inspired take on the classic New Balance silhouette. Capitalizing on the rising hype around the dad shoe, the Aime Leon Dore x New Balance 990 v2 and v5 dropped in November of 2019 and paid homage to another archival New Balance moment: “Ma Balance,” a character from New Balance advertisements dating back to the ‘70s. Featuring deep greens and navy suedes and another accompanying apparel collection (this one more appropriate for cold weather in the city with beanies, scarves, and thick sweats), the launch made it clear that the partnership stemmed from a deep understanding of the brand’s archive. ALD and New Balance were in this for the long run.
While the first collaborations between the brands spotlighted evergreen silhouettes, in the spring of 2020 ALD and New Balance switched it up. They pulled the New Balance 827 Abzorb, a retro runner out of production for years, from the archives and gave it a modern spin. The silhouette decidedly more over the top, so Santis and his collaborators leaned into the ostentatious vibe. Dropping in three colorways, the shoes were defined by bright color blocking and a white mesh upper..
The 827 Abzorb marked the partnership’s growing influence in the sneaker and fashion spaces. It’s a lot easier to sell folks on the classics than on something as weird and wild as this silhouette. Yet that’s exactly what they did-the shoes sold out in an instant and were all over the Instagram accounts of your favorite high-profile sneakerheads throughout spring and summer.
In a move that would become a signature, Aime Leon Dore and New Balance got a head start on the sneaker that would go on to define 2021 by dropping it in 2020. In October of last year they revived the New Balance 550 from the archives: a classic basketball low-top defined by clean, simple design, and-high quality materials. The brands leaned into vintage vibes, keeping the four colorways simple (creamy white uppers with red, green, grey, and navy accents). The real stroke of brilliance came in the pre-yellowed soles. Why bring an old-school sneaker back looking brand new?
The shoe sold out instantly and quickly became a hit. What’s more, it marked the first real instance of synergy between the two brands. New Balance used the drop as a reintroduction before making the 550 the staple of its line in 2021—a move we couldn’t help but notice earlier this year. A wide array of colorways have dropped this year without ALD branding, but they’ve reliably sold out upon release. ALD doubled up in the spring with two more new 550s, one in red and navy and the other in green and yellow (they also briefly restocked the three original colorways in the fall).
The accompanying lines of apparel have drawn heavily from New York’s basketball scene, with court-ready shorts, warm-up suits, and shooting shirts standing out in particular. In many ways it feels like the apex of the collaboration thus far. The lines between the two brands have become seamless—even more so since Santis joined New Balance as one of its official creative directors this past April.
While the brand’s focus remained on the 550 in 2021, a seasonal drop in spring commemorated NYC’s community gardens. Two colorways of the New Balance 1300 hit stores in May with a tee, hat, and pair of gardening gloves accompanying the release. One pink and one green, the hairy suede and creamy soles made for the perfect late-spring addition to the partnership between the brands.
Looking to capitalize on a full year of hype surrounding the 550, ALD and New Balance made a bold decision over the summer: launch the hottest sneaker of 2022 six months in advance. They doubled down on the success of the basketball-inspired 550 line and brought back the 650R, a hi-top hoops sneaker in a similar array of simple single-color designs and yellowed soles. Rather than stick by the tried-and-true sneaker industry standby of slowly orchestrating leaks for months only to officially confirm the shoe a few weeks before the drop, the brands got bold, not only revealing the shoe nearly six months before it would be available but putting it up for sale then as well. Preorders for the Aime Leon Dore New Balance 650R launched in early August, allowing customers to secure their pair months ahead of the general release.
Sneaker hype moves fast and runs on instant gratification. Even if you get a W on the SNKRS app today, there’s a good chance you’ll be stressed over another draw within the next week. A preorder system like this preaches patience as a virtue, and exudes a confidence suggesting they aren’t worried about their audience getting distracted between now and the official drop next year.
In addition to the shoes the brands also put up two of the higher-end products in the apparel collection for preorder: a hefty court-ready leather varsity jacket and a luxe leather gym bag. Reservations quickly filled up for every product, with shipping and fulfillment set for early 2022. It’s hard to see such a move as anything other than a claim being staked: ALD and New Balance are not only here to stay, they’re here to change the way the sneaker industry functions. Early returns look pretty good.
In November the brands hit customers with a surprise drop consisting of two 993 colorways—one in a rich brown and green, while the other plays off-white and violet suede against cerulean mesh. Both pairs are capped off by a black sole.
While they had initially been teased in the lookbook for ALD’s FW21 collection (among others, Queens icon Action Bronson can be spotted in the brown pair), the draw went live with very little forewarning. Unlike prior collaborations, there’s very little storytelling released confirming the inspiration behind this collection (at least as of this writing). Still, it’s been noted that the brown and green pair seems to draw inspiration from the similarly-colored “Beef and Broccoli” Timberland boots, while the other looks to pay homage to subway graffiti, as evidenced by a promotional video accompanying the drop. A full apparel line was later formally announced, including a lineup of muted tracksuits and fleeces perfect for colder weather in New York (a particular piece comes with pockets equipped to hold cans of spray paint for any aspiring subway artists out there).