40-Year Legacy: The New Balance 990v6
THREE years since the 990v5 came onto the market – and forty since the original in 1982 – the time has finally come for the latest 990 to launch: the New Balance 990v6. The sixth iteration represents what is possibly the biggest shake-up to the 99x franchise in decades. Not since the 990v2's launch in 1998 has there been such a leap forward in a single version.
When it launched in 1982, the original New Balance 990 had been in development for over five years. The brief was pretty simple: make the best shoe in the world – no holds barred. After half a decade of R&D, the 990 launched as the most advanced and most expensive running shoe the world had ever seen. It broke through the $100 barrier and birthed the lore of "expensive grey shoes" which remains with New Balance to this day.
The 990v6 carries on the legacy of the 990's original ethos. In recent years the 990 series has become synonymous with fashionable contrarians, people who chased something different but still wanted a high-quality, comfortable shoe. The 990, with its devout following of middle-Americans and similarly function-forward customers, was the ultimate dad shoe. We've seen with the success of the retro 990 series – particularly 990v3 – that the world has well-and-truly caught onto the once-secret gem of the 990.
With the 990v6, New Balance has refocused the model back onto performance-orientated goals. By no means are we saying that it's lost the everyday utility which made this shoe so popular, but it's definitely a bit more sprightly than previous generations. No clearer are these intentions than through the launch campaign, which references an ad from 1982 – the year which the 990 launched. In '82 they ran a spread under the title "Runners Aren't Normal" – showing the diversity of athletes and NB footwear to suit. That idea is reborn featuring a lineup of athletes from all walks, sporting the 990v6. New Balance's intentions are clear, unlike its immediate predecessors, the 990v6 is getting up off the couch and going for a run!
Possibly the biggest single change on the 990v6 – and the one which best signals the performance intentions – is the incorporation of FuelCell foam into the sole. This is the first time NB has brought a new cushioning technology into the 990 since the addition of ABZORB on the 998 back in 1993. FuelCell is a flagship foam technology from New Balance that focuses on maximising energy return, which in turn helps propel you down the road. It's not all new tech though, the midsole still features tried-and-true ENCAP, which employs lightweight foam within a durable polyurethane rim for all-day support. That tech has been in the series since the 996 all the way back in 1989.
For those familiar with the 99x series, there are plenty of cues to recall the 40-year history. The colours and materials are the first thing with any 990 – grey on grey suede, with a sprinkling of reflective silver. It wouldn't be a 990 if it wasn't launched in the New Balance "corporate colours" and we think nothing ever beats that combination. Although the v6 has shed weight by dropping quite a bit of suede off the uppers, there's still plenty of buttery-soft goodness to keep you happy. And of course, they need to be made in the U S of A – that's non-negotiable.
The design team worked in plenty of easter eggs for NB nerds. The quarter panel mudguard is pure 991, along with the small reflective panel near the rear quarter – a feature that evolved through to the 990v3 before disappearing on v4. The 990v3's influence also extends to the texture of the reflective, oversized N. Keen fans will remember we borrowed that detail for the Backyard Legends as well.
The dark grey micro-perf nubuck on the toebox – which has featured on the 990v3, v4 and v5 – once again returns on the accent panels of the 990v6. The mesh too is a carry-over, albeit supplemented in places on the tongue and heel with a different textile from NB's performance catalogue. An additional split from tradition comes on the tongue, where lightweight synthetic suede is fused to the mesh.
The heel window is back – albeit in a different way. In place of the cutout is a de-bossed piece of plastic which to our mind, is a throwback to the Hytrel plastic of the 997. It's at the heel where you also come to appreciate the stack height of the 990v6 compared with previous models. The FuelCell and ENCAP layers converge in a rippling, contoured midsole shape that's shared with many of New Balance's top-tier performance models. You also notice the rolled collar design, removing any unnecessary hard edges and panels from around your Achilles tendon, reducing the risk of discomfort.
For any New Balance fan, the launch of a new 990 is a big deal. In total, the 99x series has spanned 40 years and 14 seperate versions. With this latest model, it's clear that NB has no plans of letting the 990 fade off into the history books. Not content to phone-it-in and produce another variation that falls in no-mans-and – the bold choice to refocus the model is indicative of New Balance's future intentions. As often goes, the 990 sets the tone for New Balance as a company, and it seems like things are starting off with a bang!