IN PERFECT BALANCE
It was a lovely day in Boston, Massachusetts. The sun was high in the sky as Riley observed the chickens in his yard. He couldn't take his eyes off them, and soon enough, you could see the wheels in his mind starting to turn. Inspired by the physical ability of chickens to stand and move about steadily without effort, William J. Riley set up shop in 1906 and founded the New Balance Arch Support Company.
This could read like a scene from a new Wes Anderson screenplay, but we're actually dealing with nonfiction right here. "Chickens have perfect balance. All you have to do is watch them as they peck around the yard." he would explain, as he kept a chicken's foot prominently on display inside his office space, ready to demonstrate his concept whenever needed. Combining his three-pronged foot observations and a deep understanding of human foot anatomy, the New Balance Arch Support Company would manufacture arch supports and accessories for workers and athletes until 1960, before fully venturing off into running footwear wherein those innovations would be adopted.
"I sport New Balance sneakers to avoid a narrow path..."
- Phife Dawg (A Tribe Called Quest) on ‘Buggin’ Out’ (1991)
The "Trackster" was the first sneaker designed and manufactured by New Balance. It was the world’s first performance running shoe featuring a rippled sole for traction, and also the first running shoe available in a variety of widths to accommodate all foot types. They weren't lying when they launched their famous advertising campaign that boasted "Our Track Record Includes The Most Firsts." As running continued to grow in popularity, New Balance found its way to catapult itself to the forefront of the footwear industry.
The New Balance history consists of many style numbers, each a signifier in the brand's timeline. The premium series reside in the 1000s. You know it when you see it: four-digit numbers with cultural associations of such significance that they require no further explanation. I mean, mention “1200” to a DJ or producer and they’ll start to wax poetic about vinyl records or sampling sonic characteristics. “3310” will promptly take an entire generation on a durable trip down cell phone memory lane. In a similar vein, “1300” will have certain footwear aficionados quiver with nostalgic enthusiasm.
The task was simple: create the very best running shoe ever made with no expense spared. In 1985 New Balance officially welcomed the M1300 into their product line, setting a new standard of quality, performance and design for running footwear, all in one single go. Fully aware that this kind of commitment had to come at a premium price, New Balance took precautionary measures in a humorous way by advertising the M1300 with the tagline "Mortgage the house", and unapologetically included a full breakdown of all the technical innovations to explain why they were one of the most expensive running shoes on the market at the time. The M1300 became well-desired among runners in the know, and before long, casual wearers with fat pockets caught wind too and cemented them as status symbols in the streets, admired by many, owned by few.
"The first ones that came out in the '80s were unattainable for me as an 8-year old." Marlon, a good friend of Patta, laments. "I remember staring full of admiration whenever my older cousin was rocking them. When I finally got my pairs years later, I wore the hell out of them. Nothing was kept in box.” Tinus, another dedicated M1300 devotee, also recollects those times past: "I instantly fell in love, but like most people, I simply could not afford them. They were priced at 500,00 guilders if I remember correctly." That was a whole lot of money for a pair of sneakers in the '80s. Roughly 225,00 euro, without taking earnings and inflation into account. Hell, that's still a lot of money for a pair of sneakers today. "Eventually I managed to get my first pair stateside two years later for 130,00 US dollars. However, they didn't have my size in stock, so I had to settle with a pair that ran 1,5 size too big. I just had to have them." In 1985, Patta co-founder Gee was too young to be aware of the shoe's existence, but as he got a little older, he too recalls seeing them, magnificently rocked by cousins and other family members. That impression and influence always stuck with him: "It was an alluring luxury shoe that came at an elite price point. You've heard it before: the thing you want most is the one thing you can't have. When we opened Patta, it was paramount to us to have the M1300 as one of our key offerings to honour that nostalgic connection."
When something is really that good and comes with an interesting backstory, you can rest assured that Japan's fashion-forward youth culture will catch on and run with it in compulsive ways. They just always knew what's fresh across any border, even pre-internet. Their deep sense of appreciation and resonance with this particular model would be rewarded richly in years to come when New Balance decided to manufacture 1:1 accurate reissues exclusively for the Japanese market dubbed the M1300JP, released at quinquennial intervals. Yes, that's in every five years, only in Japan, AND in limited numbers. In other words, even if you finally could afford them, you'd still had to have a whole lot of patience and connections or cough up double the amount on the secondary market to be able to put them on your feet. It wasn't until 2010 when New Balance decided to improve quality of life for everybody and made the M1300JP available outside of Japan as well.
“A real short play is called a skit, and New Balance sneakers are legit...”
- Biz Markie on 'Me Versus Me' (1989)
If you ever made physical contact with a pair of M1300JP, you'll definitely understand the luxury car analogies that many enthusiasts often use to help portray what they're trying to convey. Some compare them to Bentleys, some call them the Maybach of sneakers. Tinus expounds in more personal detail: "To me, the attraction lies in its sober design aesthetic. Like the Audi A6 which is a beautiful car, but the M1300JP isn't just your standard issue A6. It's more like an RS 6, the high-performance variant of the A6, on steroids. It's just that much better."
None of them are wrong either. The list of reasons that warrant the praise (and price) runs deep. For one, there's the ‘Made in USA’ heritage, the brand's dedication to craftsmanship and domestic manufacturing. Then there's the finest materials to use on a running sneaker such as premium nubuck leather, high-quality mesh and Vibram® outsoles. We can't forget the innovations such as the time-tested ENCAP technology which ensures superior cushioning, stability and comfort.
That all being said, it's the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a no gimmicks, no nonsense-type shoe for people who love a classy and timeless aesthetic. "I just keep it simple with worn-in jeans, a plain white t-shirt and a wool v-neck sweater." Tinus explains. "That's how I like them best." Gee has owned and worn many sneakers in his life, but "there comes a time when you'll pay attention to fundamental aspects such as comfort and versatility. Hypothetically speaking, if I was to only own three particular models of shoes, the 1300 without a doubt would be one out of those three. They feel great, look great with anything, and are arguably even better when they're weathered and worn to shreds."
Thankfully, 2020 means that another long five-year wait is over. This February, New Balance is set to release the sixth iteration of the legendary classic, manufactured in Skowhegan, Maine, continuing the New Balance legacy. So here’s a pro-tip: treat your feet, go get yourself a pair at Patta when they drop, and thank me in 2025.
The New Balance M1300JP3 will be available at Patta Amsterdam on Saturday February 22nd.