The sneaker world, long dominated by fling-like collaborations, is trading that model in for a new age of long-term partnerships is here. Call it cuffing season for the world’s biggest sneaker brands. Reebok inked a deal to make Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond its creative director in September, and Adidas Basketball signed up Fear of God maestro Jerry Lorenzo in December. Now, New Balance is doing the same with one of its own long-running collaborators: Aimé Leon Dore’s Teddy Santis. Over the weekend, New Balance is announcing that Santis is joining the brand as creative director of its MADE in USA sub-line.
The new creative directorship will make the long-running partnership between Santis and New Balance permanent. Santis has already collaborated with the Boston-based brand on a handful of shoes, including cracks at New Balance’s crowd-pleasing 990 model. You can expect to see plenty more of that.
But New Balance is also surely after something more elusive. “I was drawn to New Balance for the way it has built a business founded on values such as integrity and authenticity, rather than passing hype,” Santis said in a press release about the new gig. Of course, hype is one of the key ingredients Santis will bring to New Balance. Nearly all of his collaborative New Balance sneakers resell for well above their retail price, while ALD’s downtown New York shop is that city’s predominant non-Supreme hypebeast hangout. Stroll down Mulberry Street and you’re likely to see Santis in the middle of the scrum, too, interacting with the community he’s fostered. He’ll now be tasked with creating that on a much larger scale.
In fact, recreating the hometown hero feeling is key to his mission at New Balance. “I see a tremendous opportunity to tell authentic stories with real people at the forefront, creating global campaigns that connect our core values with the world,” he said. One ALD signature is its ad campaigns featuring those “authentic stories with real people:” rather than blowing the budget on well-followed models, he taps fellow designers, local NY rappers, and his fashion friends to show off new clothes.
On a design level, New Balance and Santis seem more compatible than any other Boston-New York pairing known to man. Santis’s ALD sauces its pasta by pushing iconic American pieces through its New Yawk vortex—everything from the Yankee hat to the penny loafer are liable to end up in the designer’s collection. New Balance is a brand passionate about its American roots and the fact it maintains factories in Maine and Massachusetts. The raison d’etre for the line Santis is taking over—MADE in USA—is right there in the name. The first Santis-designed products will arrive in 2022.
Much like Jean-Raymond and Lorenzo’s positions with Reebok and Adidas, though, this collaboration seems designed mainly to bring some juice to the brand. As collaborations have become commonplace in the sneaker world, these longer-term partnerships feel designed to inject a steadier stream of buzz rather than a moment of hype.