The M998 isn't a new shoe
— it dates back to late 1992, and its been available Stateside as a retro for a while on and off. but on UK shores, we'd had trouble finding pairs, making this running design a shoe we've long lusted after in sufficient supplies. We'd spotted 998s in Japan over the years, but had sizing issues in a land where US10 was bigfoot status, and the all grey deadstock pro-runner stacks ran dry a couple of years ago. We love the 998. Not quite as much as we love 1991's 997 in US-made form, but it runs pretty close. This is the kind of shoe we can throw on and keep wearing for three months straight — comfort, quality, performance heritage and New Balance's reassuringly expensive price tag ($125 in the early '90s was no joke) twinned with the made in the USA factory build quality and material picks makes these necessary purchases. They're pretty much perfect. In fact, if we just had a stack of 998s in a plethora of neutral tones, we're concerned that we'd stop caring about any other shoe. Yeah, our love runs that deep. Progressive without resorting to daft gimmicks M998GB, 998GNR and the black/reds? Crack for your foot. Anybody else remember Bill Clinton rocking this model, as well as Al Gore, during their short-shorts jogs back in the day (after Bill used to wear the 997 with the "Mr. President" embroidery — the greatest SMU ever?)? Slick Willie knew.
Jennifer Lynch, Senior Product Manager for New Balance Lifestyle at the Boston MA HQ of the brand kindly took the time out to answer some 997 retro-related questions and wisely evaded our attempts to get her to disclose what's coming next on the heritage runner front...
US-made New Balance has had a big year — why do you think people have flocked to the lifestyle pieces?
I believe that people are interested in Made in USA because it is at the core of what NB represents. In addition there has been increased interest in quality, crafted products that are Made in the USA. Our commitment to domestic manufacturing coupled with the increased appreciation for Made in the USA products has positioned our lifestyle product perfectly within this trend as they are iconic New Balance classics that are crafted by some of our greatest shoe makers.
In the current climate is it tough to create product at a good price without compromise?
We always strive to create quality despite increases we are currently experiencing. We believe that New Balance stands for quality and we look to achieve it throughout our entire product range.
The US-made 998 is one of our favourite shoes of 2011 because they just appeared in the UK this year — why do you think that shoe resonates with an audience like it does?
The New Balance 998 is a great representation of our 990 series, and it shows the evolution of the iconic series throughout our classic history. Due to the fact that it is a slightly different profile as compared to our 991 and 996, it is a great compliment to the assortment and a great way to extend the appeal of the series in a fresh and evolved take on the classic 990.
New Balance has such an artillery of strong runners to pick from — are there any more early 1990s classics you'd like to see return at some point?
We are currently working on bringing back archival classics that tell stories of our history and our commitment to local manufacturing. Not to be cheeky, but you’ll have to wait and see!
While they're a lifestyle release, is there a reasonable-sized audience of people who still run in shoes like the 1300 or 998?
The best part about these lifestyle releases is that they were originally built for the performance runner. My belief is that there are probably people running in them, but we hope most purchasers of these shoes are wearing them as lifestyle classics.
Could we see more shoes added to the custom program beyond the 574 that are US-made?
We are looking to extend the offerings in our custom program, but nothing has been finalised at this time.
How particular are you in picking materials? The suedes and even the lace weave are all something that's quintessentially NB...
We strive to maintain the authentic materialization of the shoes while adding modern touches and design inspirations. Part of what we love about our Made in the USA classics is that the shoes are timeless and truly represent New Balance.
Does the US New Balance HQ house a substantial archive?
We do have an archive here in the US and at our key global headquarters worldwide.
Is a shoe like the 998 retro made on the original lasts? There must have been several made originally to cater for different widths.
When we re-introduce archival styles such as the 998, we look to do so on the original lasts in order to retain as much authenticity as possible.
Are some of the design minds and factory staff who created shoes like the 998 the first time around still working within the organisation?
Yes. We are very fortunate to have associates within New Balance that have been around to see the re-releases of our archival classics. They have been a tremendous resource in assuring our executions of the styles measure up to the original version.
Does the surge in popularity of the J Crew 1400 mean extra workers, extra shifts and a rush to meet demand?
The popularity of the New Balance and J Crew 1400 has certainly been great both in terms of visibility and demand. We feel that our partnership with J. Crew has really highlighted some of the great work being produced by our US factories on all of our archival classic styles.