A collab so legendary, it needed a retro. Concepts has announced that they are bringing back their first-ever collaboration with New Balance, the famous nautically-themed 999—better known to the world as the “Kennedy”.
Released in March 2011, the 999 was designed by then Concepts employee Frank the Butcher, taking inspiration from the sailing culture of New England and (unofficially) President John F. Kennedy’s love for the seaside hobby in his native region. The shoe marked the first team-up between Concepts and fellow Boston area footwear residents New Balance, but definitely not the last. It would turn out to be a landmark release for not only the two brands—propelling them both to new heights in the eyes of the sneaker community—but the now-common sub-genre of story-driven, premium quality retro running shoes.
Before 2011, the hyped retro runner collab as you know it today hardly existed outside of hard to get Nike Air Max 1’s by shops like atmos and Patta. The “Kennedy” 999 basically set the blueprint for the current ‘sneaker shop + sneaker brand + limited quantities’ formula used by brands like New Balance, ASICS, Diadora, and Saucony, inspiring an entire collab category in the industry.
And now the classic 999 by Concepts is back, and it’s even better than the original. It now features a completely refurbished construction with New Balance’s impeccable Made in USA quality—a first for the 999 that’s usually produced overseas. The new and improved 999 by Concepts is officially called the “Hyannis” colorway, a reference to the Cape Cod community President Kennedy once frequented that’s also home to a museum in his honor. Manufactured in the US for over 75 years and representing a limited portion of their US sales, New Balance Made is a premium collection that contains a domestic value of 70% or greater.
So why did Concepts decide to do bring back their “Kennedy” 999, and how did they get New Balance to make the model in their elite New England factory? We spoke to Concepts Creative Director Deon Point about how it all went down before the launch at Complex Con on November 4th.
Sneaker News: The most obvious question is, what made you guys want to bring back the shoe?
Deon Point: It’s been discussed here at Concepts about trying to bring back a shoe like the “Lobster” (Nike SB Dunk Low) or the “Rosé (New Balance 997), and I’ve always kind of been against it. Reason being, one thing we pride ourselves on is challenging ourselves every time. We’re always trying to see what else we can come up with. We felt that going backwards just kind of discredits who we are, so it’s never been something I wanted to do.
How the conversation to bring back the 999 got started was when we were discussing the timeline of Concepts and New Balance projects, one of the most successful was the “Rose” 997, but we thought this 999 was the one that was kind of starved out in the market place. I believe we did somewhere between 350-500 pairs worldwide at the time, so it was one of those shoes when you fast forward to present times, a lot of kids don’t even necessarily know it exists. So it was important for us to be able to circle back, as long as we had a reason to do it. That reason was being able to finally make it in the United States. Now the quality and materials are what we always envisioned the shoe to be.
Are you overall happier with the new version than the original?
Yes. The quality and craftsmanship on this one, bar none, for sure is better. The heel counter is not going to be ripstop nylon because that’s not a material they can guarantee the quality of for the Made in USA standards, so it’s actually switched to a perf suede, which is pretty sick. It kind of balances the shoe out a little better. It’s a little more clean, and gives it a more classic look and feel.
The 999 is not usually made in the USA. Did you guys have to pull some strings with New Balance to get them to do a run of the shoe here?
We initially thought we’d do a 997 in the 999 colorway. When we were discussing it with New Balance it got brought up that we might be able to do the 999 in the USA, so we thought if we were going to retro it, we’d go all the way and keep the DNA intact, and maybe step it up a little bit with different materials. So that’s how it happened, and now we’re set to be the first account to do a Made in USA 999. Then there will be some of New Balance’s own renditions (of the Made in USA 999) later on.
Concepts is often credited with making New Balance popular in the sneaker collector community because of this 999. It seems to have been a catalyst for a new generation of kids to get into New Balance, and then the brand started dropping a lot more collabs. When you guys were originally designing and releasing the shoe, did you ever think all that would happen and it would be such a big deal?
No, not at all. We definitely knew we were taking a chance. We were huge fans of the brand. We had some stuff we liked stashed in the back of the Concepts shop from the mid to late ‘90s, like Made in UK models. We knew the potential for the brand wasn’t really met for the United States. Some of the guys overseas were so keen on New Balance, and we couldn’t really figure out why they weren’t big here in the US.
While we felt like we were taking a risk with the collab, we also felt like we were educating the consumer. If you look at the history of Concepts from then until now, that’s something we’ve always subtly prided ourselves in. Whether it be doing these 999’s, or some of the other brands like Birkenstock and Mephisto, there’s always this goal that we can teach the consumer about something they may already know but be able to dive in a little deeper on, but more importantly for those that have no idea what something is, to educate them. So that was kind of the vision we had (on collaborating with New Balance). Obviously it exploded and became something bigger than we would have imagined. We were taken aback with the success of it.
The Concepts x New Balance Made in USA 999 “Hyannis” releases November 4th exclusively at ComplexCon.