As sneaker companies go, New Balance has always been a geek, forswearing Beatle-spawn collaborations, Olympian endorsements, and pink sweatshirts designed by Scarlett Johansson. Instead, the company has stuck with one simple, if unsexy, mission: ultra-high-tech running shoes that get the job done.
But when New York design studio DDC USA—which won Material ConneXion’s Medium Award this year for its DDCLab fashion line—resurrected New Balance’s vintage-style PF Flyers brand in 2004, NB was so pleased it bought a stake in the firm. It then hired DDC’s designers, Savania Davies-Keiller and Roberto Crivello, to oversee its entrance into the women’s lifestyle market. “For the first time, New Balance was actually saying, ‘We’re going to marry design with technology,’” Davies-Keiller says. “They’re doing what Apple did with the laptop.”
The Inside shoe, which arrives in stores this spring, may look pared-down, but the technology took a year to develop. Some models will incorporate Inox, a metal mesh with anti-radiation and anti-arthritic properties. Others will be infused at the fiber level with liquids released upon agitation over the life of the shoe, soothing overworked feet with aloe vera, trapping bacteria and odors while moisturizing with tiny dollops of lotion, and releasing a subtle scent meant to evoke a day spa.
The midsole used in the company’s high-performance running shoes has been condensed into a lower, sleeker removable insert whose components—which include NB’s proprietary DuPont Abzorb cushioning material, as well as cork—are so closely guarded the company refused to send a photo of the shoe’s cross-section. “Most sneakers out there for women are still that kind of ugly, puffed-up-plastic, elevated eeeech,” says Davies-Keiller. “We’re not doing aerobics anymore. I wanted it to be a shoe that I could wear with a pair of jeans, or slop around town in, or chic up if I were running through an airport to sit in business class.”
In future seasons, DDC’s offerings for New Balance will include shoes made with natural and environmentally friendly materials such as corn, bamboo, and organic cotton, and a branded clothing line incorporating liquid-fiber technologies, with nary a pillow-lipped starlet involved. —Eviana Hartman