New Balance 550
The New Balance 550 is a lifestyle sneaker from New Balance designed by legendary sneaker architect and “The Godfather of dad shoes,” Steven Smith. Rooted in basketball-ready design, the silhouette was reintroduced in 2020 by the Teddy Santis-led Aimé Leon Dore (ALD).
• A BRIEF HISTORY •
Originally released in 1989 under a “P550 Basketball Oxford” model name, the low-top silhouette is constructed with premium smooth and perforated leather uppers, breathable mesh interior lining and a rubber sole unit. While in-vogue in the early 2020s, the simple construction failed to garner much fanfare in the late '80s, an era that was dominated by much more technologically advanced basketball sneakers. Furthermore, preceding running shoes the likes of the New Balance 990 (1982) and succeeding New Balance 1500 (1993) overshadowed the made-for-hoops 550, shifting the Boston-based brand's focus away from the hardwood.
For over 30 years, New Balance's low-top basketball shoe lived in the archives. By chance, Santis, who has displayed an affinity for vintage sportswear through both his Aimé Leon Dore brand and NB collaborations, stumbled upon a picture of the 550 and brought it to the brand's senior manager of global collaborations, Joe Grondin. After extensive research, both parties discovered the model in an old New Balance Japan catalog. With this information, Santis and team hunted down an original pair of the 550 from a collector by searching Instagram hashtags, as Grondin told Sneaker Freaker in December 2020. (For a more in-depth breakdown, check out “A History of the New Balance 550.”
• WHY IS THE 550 SO POPULAR? •
After several revisions, the Queens-native and his Boston-based partner achieved a true-to-original-form New Balance 550. Launched with an “International Friendship Through Basketball” slogan and with the help of Team SONNY, a 15u AAU basketball team led by coach Kenny Satterfield, inaugural pairs of the sneaker's first-ever retro mostly kept to the two-tone color styling that dominated hoops shoes in the '80s. Ever the fan of vintage clothing, ads and other consumer-facing product, Santis outfitted his first four 550s in an off-white leather upper accompanied by a slightly-yellowed midsole for an “aged” look.
Aimé Leon Dore's cachet as one of the most exciting elevated streetwear brands to come out of New York City in the last decade brought unprecedented attention to the once-overlooked silhouette. Shifts in the mainstream sneaker zeitgeist before the start of the 2020s – the resurgence of low-top basketball shoes from the '80s – also brought footwear enthusiasts of all degrees to the sleek and versatile design. Influencers on Instagram and TikTok also helped propel the NB 550 into a wider consciousness with their outfit pictures and videos showcasing life in NYC where ALD's aesthetically-pleasing “brick-and-mortar” space is located. Collaborations with Europe's size? and Japan's AURALEE have also brought international attention to the 33-year-old design. Rich Paul of KLUTCH Sports also demonstrated the sneaker's inherent freshness as his take on the once-“P550” instantly sold out despite not being associated with a highly-recognizable streetwear or sneaker brand.
• HOW MUCH IS THE 550? •
Pricing for the New Balance 550 arrives at $110 USD, with limited and special editions having a slightly-higher $130 USD price tag. Due to global logistical delays and increases to inflation throughout the second-half of 2021, the cost of the sneakers might be raised by the end of 2022. Many consumers, however, believe NB's shoes are “worth it” given the reliably high-quality materials they feature and their Made in the U.S.A. manufacturing.
The shoes' popularity has led to most (if not all) releases to instantly sell out via New Balance and select shops' online stores. Because of this, pairs of the 550 – in particular ALD's collaborations – are commonly bought on after-market platforms like eBay and Stadium Goods for a seller-decided markup.
• HOW DOES THE 550 FIT? •
As with most footwear from New Balance, the sneakers fit true-to-size (TTS). Currently, the 550 silhouette isn't offered in a variety of widths like some of the brand's other products, but its use of leather allows for a much more comfortable fit with wear. For extra wiggle room and to avoid discomfort caused by the model's narrowness, consider a half-size up when ordering 550s.