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New Balance 2002r: Forgotten luxury

August 29, 2021 12:00 PM
New Balance 2002r: Forgotten luxury

The New Balance 2002r was a sneaker born in the imagination of an aspiring designer in 2008, launched in 2010, forgotten by everyone for almost a decade, and then relaunched with great fanfare in 2020.

What a life for a shoe that was meant for the 'upper 10,000', only to return as a democratic model and conquer the hearts and wardrobes of consumers around the world.

Today, let's look at the history of the model and especially the re-release of the New Balance 2002 (r) including the best collabs. This became one of the most popular re-releases in 2020, while the added 'r' stands for the 2020 version of the 2002.

The original version was a $250 "Made in USA" lifestyle shoe from 2010, and the update paired the shoe's original upper with the 860v2 sole.

The 2002r gained popularity last year, 2020, thanks to collaborations with former Versace designer Salehe Bembury and projects with Thisisneverthat and Invincible, among others, but the shoe's origins are hard to fathom even for die-hard sneakerheads.

New Balance 2002r History
New Balance

The beginning of NL 2002

The original NB 2002 was billed as a luxury running sneaker. A shoe designed for those who saw themselves as bosses. It joined the brand's line of grey suede running shoes. At the same time, it was an updated version of the typical dad shoe.

New Balance designed the 2002 as a top-of-the-market sneaker, taking the sole from the brand's best running shoe at the time, the 1906. The price tag reflected its luxury character: at $250, it was $100 more expensive than the retro Air Jordans launched that same year.

"The 2000 series, it was a super expensive price point, nothing really rivaled that within our brand at the time. Back then, I was not making as much as I do now, so I was like, 'Man, who would spend that much money on this shoe?' Could not even fathom paying full price for that thing. But there is so much technology and so forth that goes into it that you can see just how there is all that value."

Andrew Nyssen, Designer of the upper of the original New Balance 2002

The sneaker caught the attention of some of the brand's biggest fans. Ronnie Fieg, who would go on to found Kith a year later in 2011, received a pair and raved about them in a 2010 blog post:

"New Balance sent me these crazy Made In The USA 2002′s and they are a perfect 10. The color is RF grey so you already know I put them on my feet today. The midsole is stacked with a better suspension system than most of your cars. For $250 these are one of the most comfortable shoes I have ever rocked with."

New Balance 2002r History
Ronnie Fieg

The sneaker remained unknown to a certain extent, which Nyssen believes could be due to its price:

"If this costs $250 retail, I can't imagine what it would cost wholesale," he said. "And if you had a whole series of these in your back room, that would be thousands of dollars just for this one model."

In hiding? 10 years of oblivion

Richie Roxas, who works as an assistant manager at New Balance's flagship store in Philadelphia and owns the largest collection of old New Balance sneakers in the world, can't remember people wearing this shoe in Philadelphia back then. This despite the fact that the city was a stronghold of the company.

"You could only find it online or in an outlet a year after its release. We didn't have flagship stores then," he explained.

Washington, DC, Maryland and parts of Northern Virginia (DMV area) have long been considered the cultural capital of New Balance. Although the brand was born in New England, it was the streets and hustlers of this region that gave the brand its credibility outside of runners and dads with lawnmowers.

While the 900 series sneakers were the most popular models back then, the 2002 also got some shine a decade ago.

"990s, 991s and 996s have always been our staples," says Adrian Carter, a DMV native who now does marketing for Undefeated. "If anything, it was because of the technology and the higher price, which was intriguing to many. The people who could spend a little more would buy it. In a way, if you owned it, it solidified your status."

Luxury and CEO lifestyle

Luxury and a CEO's lifestyle were the inspiration for the 2002 design, and Nyssen shared an early image in the shoe's design process of him Photoshopping it onto the feet of then-New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini.

"I wanted to design a sneaker for our CEO at the time and asked myself, 'What would that look like?" says Nyssen. Yet the original mood board for the shoe also included Bentleys and Hublot watches.

"We looked at Bentleys [when working on the shoe]. It's the combination of high-end luxury with high-end performance and that you can have both," Nyssen says. "The same goes for watches, which are not only performance but also the utmost in luxury and stature. That's what we were thinking about when we designed and developed the shoe."

New Balance 2002r History
New Balance

To design a $250 sneaker for New Balance, performance and quality should be behind the model. Because that's what the brand has focused on since it was founded in 1906. Fittingly, it is the 1906 sneaker that has given the 2002 many of these qualities.

"We went to the performance running team and it was like, 'What is the highest end in a sole unit you guys are working on right now?' Let's color it up in a way that does not scream performance, but it has the attributes that we want. It seemed to work out pretty good."

Andrew Nyssen

The New Balance 2002r

Thanks to long-time New Balance Japan employee and product line manager Tetsuya Shono, the 2002 was then revised to the 2002r in 2020.

"He used to be a designer before he was a product manager. So he knows every detail about every main US shoe that has been released. Especially on the most pinnacle versions, shoes like a 2002 and like 2040, had quite a run in Japan. And they were one of those shoes that crossed over in that fashion lifestyle world where it did not always cross over in the rest of the world.”

Joe Grondin, current director of collaborations at New Balance, about Shono

New Balance 2002r History

One collaboration that caused a stir with the 2002r was the pair from Taiwan's Invincible, which gave the shoe a much more subtle makeover. The grey motif of the shoe was kept, but the branding on the tongue was not adapted and one side remained blank. Text was also added on the toe cap.

"You can never really predict if something is going to be big. But the updated 2002 just felt right with its anti-hype/daddy look," says Invincible co-founder Michael Vincent. "It felt like it belonged in the modern era and could be a potential classic for the future."

Invincible's collaboration with the 2002r was highly limited and only released in Asia, resulting in the shoe having a solid resale value.

Today's colorways of the New Balance 2002r

Not only due to the emerging dad sneaker trend, the New Balance 2002r is now more popular than ever. Buyers are also more accepting of the price now than in the past. €250 is still a lot of money today, but some are willing to spend that for quality.

Especially popular was the Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002r, which reinterpreted luxury.

Younger, but no less creative and popular was Bembury's renewed collaboration with New Balance. It was not until June 2021 that the Salehe Bembury x New Balance 2002R 'Water Be The Guide' was launched.

The Protection Pack, which was released in July 2021, was also celebrated. It came in three colorways, Rain Cloud, Phantom and Sea Salt, with a deconstructed look to the upper.

New Balance 2002 Protection Pack