The ultimate and original dad shoe, the 990 is one of New Balance’s undisputable running flagships. First released in 1978, it turned heads as the first running shoe to be sold for more than $100, with loads of tech and quality to justify the hefty price tag at the time. Fast forward to today and the 990v4 is everybody’s favorite. It’s still a legit runner, but also worn on the streets everywhere from Berlin to Tokyo – and even on runways. But that doesn’t mean time’s standing still. The 990v5 has now arrived and features subtle but decisive design updates. And who else to ask but New Balance designer Scot Hull, who we met during our trip to Boston.
Scot Hull is “Creative Design Manager” at New Balance but he’s also a self-made man in every sense of the word. Originally hailing from Idaho, he didn’t go to design school but started out as an upholsterer, then built cabinets and furniture before using his skills to redesign buses – one of them for Vogue Magazine in New York. After working up the ranks in the footwear industry, he found his home at New Balance in Boston. Scot was responsible for the 990v4, which released in 2016 and so was able to update his own design for the 990v5. Let’s hear it from the man himself.
Scot, why didn’t you leave the 990v4 as it was forever? Never change a winning team, right?
That’s a really good question. Unlike a lot of shoes, we have decided to change the 990 every few years whenever we have the feeling that it’s getting saturated and people are looking for new things. When we see that this happens, we want to energize the marketplace with an updated design.
How hard was it to create a new version, especially as the previous version was your own design?
So, I was really happy with the V4, I felt like it really turned out well. It was something I had never done before and was able to look at it with fresh eyes when I started back then. The V5 was much harder and I really do think that for projects like this, statement level projects, I think there should always be a new designer. You want someone that’s looking at it as a brand-new project. Someone who says “I would have done this, I would have done that”. They will start finessing it the way you wouldn’t. The V5 is definitely simpler than the last one. I think when people start seeing it on feet, then I think it’s gonna do really well.
Do you have a favorite design detail?
I definitely think that it looks better overall because it’s simplified so I think the detail I like the most is the fact that we can color it up in a way that it looks like a completely different shoe. I think that’s what’s gonna shock people down the road. It’s like “what shoe is that?” Because they don’t recognize it.
When the 990v4 came out in 2016 it was super successful and everyone wanted a pair. What was the secret to its success? Were consumers bored with sock shoes?
For a long time footwear was really simple and low profile, so I think it was just natural that the next generation of young people would be rejecting the old generation’s view on footwear. I think it was something they hadn’t seen for a while.
Now the bulky trend is super exaggerated and at this point the 990v5 is getting simpler. What do you see coming after the bulky trend?
I think the bulky trend is short-lived, in a way. Again, it’s just that the next generation rejecting the last generation’s style. Things are gonna get to a low profile again. If you look at some of the bulky stuff, a lot of them are just bulky for bulky’s sake. I really look at it and don’t find it beautiful. It seems like some people have lost their sense of design and just throwing things on shoes is nothing but desperate. In the end, the more extreme the shoes get, the faster people will get sick of it.
When the original 990 came out it turned heads because it was the first running shoe that crossed the 100$ threshold. What do you think about its price today?
My boss, Brad Lacey, actually laid this out for me recently. If you look at what the Air Max was in the 90s and compare it with today in terms of price development, the 990 should actually be about 350$ today. But we still try to keep the shoes affordable so that somebody who works in a factory could actually afford to buy it if they want to and that’s important I think.
Scot, thank you for these insights.
Release Details – New Balance 990V5
The New Balance 990V5 releases on May 4, 2019 at newbalance.de and via select NB stockists. The shoe retails for 200 €.