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550 x Aimé Leon Dore

The New Balance 550 is an older shoe than many might expect. It was first released in 1989 after Steven Smith had been asked to design a basketball trainer for college players based on the brand’s 740 model. Alongside a high-top called 650, he crafted a low-top known as the P550 Oxford, giving it plenty of performance features, including dynamic tread formations that incorporated a pivot circle and a special sway bar in the forefoot inspired by automotive design, both of which made the shoe highly manoeuvrable. Despite this, the 550 never really achieved the success it promised; that is until three decades later, when Teddy Santis, founder of fashion and lifestyle brand Aimé Leon Dore happened upon an image of the shoe while looking through an old Japanese sneaker magazine. He had already brought his brand’s New York street culture vibes to several New Balance projects and, taken by the retro look of the original, Santis approached his partners with an idea for how to revive it. They were happy to see the 550 finally get the attention it deserved, but it was now 2020, and the shoe had fallen into obscurity. Not to be deterred, the group sought out a pair from renowned sneaker enthusiast Khalli Vegas and delved into New Balance’s archives to find some of Smith’s original design drawings of the 1980s model. With these as inspiration, they set about rebuilding the shoe from the sole up. The result was the New Balance 550 x Aimé Leon Dore – a new version of the silhouette that embodied the vintage styling of the original and captured the imagination of the sneaker world like never before.

Four Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550 colourways were released in 2020’s initial run, each one with the appearance of a classic 80s basketball trainer. Richly layered panels of white leather form the upper and perforations mark the flanks for added breathability, while the dual-branded tongue label, pre-yellowed midsole and simple colour-blocking enhance the design’s retro feel. Alongside these neutral hues, three of the 2020 releases have a single tone across most of the outsole, as well as parts of the upper such as the heel branding and the “N” logo on each flank, whose use of cracked leather makes the sneaker look even more like a vintage model. These dichromatic sneakers are the Green, which is often known as the Evergreen, the Silver, whose lighter shading gives it a certain elegance, and the Navy, with its dark blue accents. Finishing the collection is the Red colourway, which brings together contrasting black and red tones on its outsole, heel, collar and branding, for a strong look.

By 2021, the first run of the New Balance 550 had all sold out, proving the desirability of Santis’ design. Now an official creative director for New Balance, he created two more ALD 550s: the Natural Green and the Red Navy. Both retain a vintage aesthetic but their ventilation holes have been moved to the toe box and new colour combinations introduced to the outers. 2022 saw the release of several more editions, all of which returned the perforations to the sidewalls. Three of the five colourways display stylish two-tone colour-blocking like that of the 2020 shoes – the Purple a deep shade of mauve, the Olive a pleasant khaki hue and the Brown a light mocha tone – while the other two shoes make use of suede to bring textural variation to the collection. One of these is the graceful White Leather colourway, whose almost monochrome construction is accompanied by grey accents, with suede on the heel counter and sidewall logos. The other is simply known as the Grey colourway for its use of plush grey suede panelling across its upper.

Following the continued success of the New Balance 550 x Aimé Leon Dore, the brands worked on more new iterations for 2023, including toddlers and kids versions of all four 2020 colourways. Alongside these were two editions with soft, shaggy suede overlays covering a creamy canvas base layer. The Brown Suede or True Brown, as it is known to some, features a rich auburn colour on its overlays, tongue branding and sidewall logos, while the Taupe Suede exhibits a light shade of beige that has seen it gain a second nickname: Warm Sand. Later in the year, two more designs were added to the collection, both inspired by Aimé Leon Dore’s Masaryk Community Gym in New York, which was set up in 2022 to encourage and nurture basketballing talent from the city’s Lower East Side and build a strong sense of community in the local area. With these 550s, Santis established a different kind of vintage look through leather overlays tinged with a hint of yellow and a mesh netting on the tongue, “N” logos and collar. In addition, they employ perforations in both the flanks and the forefoot, making them well-ventilated throughout. They are also decorated with retro tones, the Classic Pine colourway taking on a lush green hue, and the Victory Blue a blend of amber and indigo blue.

When Steven Smith first designed the New Balance 550, he set in motion an unlikely series of events that would take the shoe on an incredible journey to eventually become the icon that it is today. After languishing for over thirty years, it finally proved its credentials as a stylish lifestyle sneaker thanks to the vision and hard work of both Teddy Santis and the New Balance brand. Each New Balance 550 x  Aimé Leon Dore  is defined by its compelling vintage aesthetic, but the collection has since inspired a plethora of regular 550 colourways with a more contemporary look, ensuring that the legacy of this 80s basketball trainer will live on for many years to come.

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