Behind the Design & Inspiration of the Surprise-Hit New Balance 327

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It’s not often that a new sneaker silhouette garners as much attention as the New Balance 327 did when it was officially revealed earlier this year, as part of a collaborative collection with Parisian label Casablanca. The reaction online — particularly on social media — was overwhelmingly positive and full of anticipation, which continued to build over time, as the shoe’s reveal at Paris Fashion Week preceded its planned release date by four months.

The New Balance 327 was designed by Charlotte Lee, a sneaker designer based in Manchester, UK, who has been with New Balance since 2014. Lee, for one, was surprised by the 327’s instant popularity. “I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the demand or the positive reaction, to be honest,” she laughs. “Because I was using so many models from our back catalog, I was almost anticipating an overwhelming amount of negativity.”

A big part of why the 327 was so well-received was because it seemingly came out of nowhere. Whenever a brand tries to put a contemporary spin on a classic or hypes an all-new silhouette as part of the rollout, it risks setting the bar too high. “I think the best products — not only from New Balance but from other brands as well — are those that don’t have as much of the spotlight initially,” Lee says.

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The archival models Lee references above are the New Balance 320 and the Super Comp, both of which were originally released in the ’70s and served as direct inspiration for the 327. “The ’70s were definitely a really pivotal decade for the brand. In 1976 we introduced the N logo on the 320s,” Lee explains. “That’s the reason that model was used. It’s even in the title of the 327.”

“When creating this shoe, I wanted to make sure I was inspired by the past, but in a completely different way than was done before,” Lee continues. “I don’t want to create another shoe that looked like it was from the seventies.”

Lee’s New Balance 327 borrows several design details from the 320 and the Super Comp, most notably the asymmetric midsole, the fan detail on the toe box, and the wraparound, studded outsole. “When I was looking through our archives, I was looking for things that were iconic and things that stood out to me as being different,” Lee explains. “Layering those elements together, created a shoe that felt relatively recognizable to the consumer, but at the same time it was a little bit like, ‘Oh, I’ve not seen that before.’”

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The design process began in late 2018, and by the time the sneaker was unveiled on the Paris Fashion Week FW20 runway in January 2020, the 327 was no longer on Lee’s mind, as she moved on to other projects. “When I first found out about us working with Casablanca I was amazed, because it was a dream come true for me. That’s where I wanted New Balance to position itself,” Lee says. “When you look at Casablanca’s collection, it just felt like they’d been designed together. That to me is a perfect collaboration, when two brands come together and they’re on the same path, they’re looking at the same references, they’re thinking in the same way.”

Following the highly-successful launch with Casablanca, New Balance has now released several general release colorways of the 327 — most of which have sold out, too. “I’ve had a lot of people contact me and be like, ‘New Balance has really limited the amount of pairs,’” Lee laughs. “That’s not the case, though.”

As for what’s to come? Charlotte Lee assures us there’s a lot more — especially as it pertains to the 327’s aesthetic. “We’ve used a lot of models as inspiration from the eighties and the nineties in the past, and we were seeing seventies as an emerging trend on runways, from a lot of brands, and some fashion brands specifically,” she says. “There’s more to come, and I think the seventies trend as a whole isn’t going anywhere any time soon.”

We’ll definitely stay tuned.