Russ Bengtson has been in the sneaker game for years, making him a grandmaster sneaker aficionado. His impressive resume includes Slam Magazine and, currently, Complex Magazines as the Sneaker Editor. We caught up with Russ to talk about New Balance shoes. (All photos by Mr. Gif)
How do you feel about the currently state of the sneaker game?
Man. It’s a tough question to answer because there’s so much going on. There are just so many releases these days that if you try and keep up with everything, it’s impossible. However, given how many releases there are, it follows that there are a lot of GREAT releases, from super-exclusive drops to general release sneakers that you can find at any mall. So while it’s easy to get lost given how much is out there, things are really good right now in terms of product. There’s always something cool hitting shelves.
What do you feel is the most important part of a New Balance shoe? Why?
It’s gotta be that N. I mean, some New Balances have other elements that stand out — like the ENCAP sole or the “rollbar” on the 580 — but it’s the N that makes a New Balance a New Balance. Who would have thought a simple italicized capital letter would make for one of the most iconic sneaker logos?
What make a New Balance shoe memorable? Why?
The materials are always top-notch — New Balance uses great suedes — and the construction is always spot-on, especially on the US- and UK-made pairs. Quality is definitely the standout element when it comes to New Balance. Just the way everything comes together — even the overall shape of the shoe.
If you were a New Balance, which one would you specifically be? Why?
I’d like to think I’d be a 576 or a 577. Just a classic runner with clean lines that isn’t necessarily the first one you think of, but when you do think of it you’re like, “oh yeah, those are really cool, too.” I’m definitely no flagship, and hopefully not one you can find everywhere like the 574.
What was your first memory of New Balance shoes?
I do remember wanting a pair of Worthys when I was in high school, probably around 1988, 1989. That was more off just wanting an expensive pair of basketball shoes with someone’s name on them, ha.
What do you take into account when choosing New Balance to wear before leaving the house?
Hm. Weather, for one. Not gonna wear suede in the rain. Maybe then I go with the 580s. Or if I’m gonna run, I might try the Minimus. Everyday shoe is something like a 574 in a classic grey or blue. Maybe some 1300s for a special occasion.
What do you feel that New Balance is doing that other brands are not?
Making sneakers in the USA and UK, and keeping them reasonably priced. Pretty much every company moved manufacturing to Asia in recent years — including American stalwarts like Converse and Vans — and New Balance continues to make shoes in Maine. And not just custom orders or limited runs, either, but “normal” shoes you can find in Foot Locker. That deserves so much respect.
What is your favorite sneaker store that you shop at locally? Internationally? Online?
I actually love Paragon Sports on Broadway. They were one of the first places to find real performance sneakers in NYC, and they remain one of the best shops when it comes to functional sneakers. Plus every once in a while they get some lifestyle look you might not expect. I like what Ronnie Fieg is doing with Kith downtown, and Crooked Tongues in the UK is one of the best shops in the world. Online, anywhere that has what I’m looking for, ha.
Do you have any tips on caring for New Balance that you have developed?
I’m not really one to go crazy over my shoes. Definitely not going after them with a suede brush or keeping shoe trees in them. I wear them until they wear out, then move on to something else. Fortunately I’m in a position where I get more shoes than I can even wear, so the rotation is rather large.
What personal projects are you working on? What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Personal projects? Just keeping things moving with Complex Sneakers and doing what I can to help out with Sneaker Report, our new performance sneakers site. I’m always open to new opportunities, though — I’d love to design a shoe for someone other than just me.
Enjoy your sneakers—they eventually crumble whether you wear them or not, so you may as well wear them.