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In the early 2020s, New Balance designer Yue Wu found himself thrust into the brand’s lifestyle division with the challenging task of creating a new version of its 2002R model. Having only been with the company for just a few short years, it was a hefty responsibility to reimagine such a classic shoe, but he rose to the occasion and crafted one of New Balance’s most popular packs of sneakers. So successful was it that he was soon offered the chance to work on the New Balance 1906 – a heritage silhouette that inspired the look of the original 2002 model and was named for the year the brand was founded. Once again, he proved his talent for inventive sneaker design, which was forged during two stints at the Pensole Footwear Design Academy in Portland, producing a collection of stylishly distressed and deconstructed versions of the 1906R that came to be known as the New Balance 1906D Protection Pack.

The 1906D has lightweight comfort at its heart, being constructed upon a supportive base that combines the shock absorbing technology of New Balance’s N-ergy outsole, which features a Stability Web arch structure to reduce the risk of foot injury, with the gentle underfoot cushioning of the brand’s ABZORB midsole, whose ABZORB SBS gel brings extra soft padding to the heel. On top of this, the upper is formed of durable ballistic mesh that allows the foot to breathe, and its iconic “N” logo doubles up as an innovative lace-securing system called N-Lock. With these elements taking care of all the wearer’s high-tech performance needs, Wu could focus all his attention on giving the 1906D Protection Pack a captivating aesthetic. To do so, he layered the upper with a variety of high-quality materials, carving each panel in such a way that its rough edges appear to have been worn away over time, when actually they have been carefully designed to produce that exact shape. Along with this retro styling, he also decorated the sneakers in compellingly muted tones, with occasional bright moments highlighting each one.

Eight colorways of the 1906D Protection Pack were released in 2023, half of them in mostly dark colors, the other half coated in lighter hues. At one end of this scale is the White – a sneaker with two layers of white leather panels atop its white mesh upper. Its off-white midsole creates a gentle tonal contrast, while hints of crimson pop up on the lateral midsole, tongue and insole. Acting as the perfect counterpoint to this pristine white edition is the Triple Black colorway, which also incorporates dual layers of leather, this time all in black, alongside a similarly colored mesh underlayer and sole unit. White accents illuminate the tongue and insole branding, as well as the 1906D text on the lateral heel, and crimson aspects show up in the same places as they do on its light counterpart.

Two more colorways from the collection make use of leather on the upper, once again in opposing tones. One is called Silver Metallic due to its shiny silver heel counter and overlays, which rest upon another layer of gray leather and a bright silver mesh base. This is all constructed over a sole unit in two off-white tones, with white and crimson branding marking areas like the insole and tongue. The other sneaker in this pair has appropriately been named Eclipse for its dusky coloration. Various dark navy tones fill out everything from the sole to the leather overlays and the mesh behind it, while the familiar red and white New Balance text and branding shows up on the insole and tongue, and the NB heel emblem shines out in metallic silver.

Meanwhile, the remaining four colorways switch out leather for overlays made of plush suede while still retaining a mesh base layer. Despite this, some pieces of leather have been brought over from the other designs, including the flap on the lateral heel that hosts the 1906D text, the branded panel on the top half of the tongue and the small lace loop on the forefoot. Two types of suede have been used on the overlays, the top layer being formed of a fuzzy fabric, the lower one being much smoother. While this lends the sneaker a variety of intriguing textures, the visual aesthetic is enhanced by the different color schemes used on each design. The Reflection is, in essence, a lighter shoe, with a silver mesh upper, off-white overlays and a cream-colored midsole. However, darker hues add bold highlights across its outer, from the “N” logo lace lock to the outsole and the heel counter, and, with the exception of the insole graphic, black coats the inner. It also forms a cube on the cream-colored tongue patch that helps to highlight the NB logo in its center. A line of metallic gold draws a box around this logo, before the regal color returns on the back of the tongue and parts of the outsole, bringing added radiance to the design.

The final three sneakers play with color in similar ways, beginning with the Harbor Grey, whose upper blends various grays with a silver New Balance logo, a creamy white midsole and a black outsole. Over the top of the foot, more shades of gray can be seen contrasting against the cream-colored laces and the red and black accents of the tongue label, which are repeated on the insole text as well. Another offering is simply known as the Black colorway – a reflection of the rich black and dark gray hues that cover both its upper and its outsole. Like the previous sneaker, its midsole is decorated in a creamy hue, but its laces are black and its inner off-white. Golden effects show up on its tongue and the frame around its sidewall logos, and there are hints of crimson on its insole and a piece of the lateral midsole, just like on the other Protection Pack designs. The eighth and final colorway is the Turtledove – a sneaker of contrasting tones with a black sole unit underpinning an upper of various off-white and light beige hues. Creamier tones feature on its leather tongue patches and heel counter, black spreads across its inner walls and crimson lines surround the black and white branding elements on its insole and tongue.

Yue Wu’s work on the New Balance 1906D Protection Pack is some of his best to date, and it would be impossible to rule out the expansion of the collection in the future. Its rebellious use of jaggedly cut overlays gives each shoe in the collection an eye-catching look, while its range of modern features also makes the 1906D an effective performance trainer. On top of this, its selection of stylish colorways means that it has become a must-have for both sneaker enthusiasts and casual New Balance fans, which is why it has been such a tremendous success.

Rank the New Balance 1906D

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