Aimé Leon Dore and New Balance have a unique relationship. The former's founder, Queens-born designer Teddy Santis, is also a creative director at the latter, at least for the Made in USA line. As such, Santis knows the ins and outs of the business...as well as which silhouettes they're hiding in their archives.
Santis's brand has re-debuted several shelved New Balance designs: the 550 and 650, a low-top and high-top, respectively; and now, the Rainier boot. He has a keen eye for what's current, even if it stems from a previous era. The boot, for example, originally dropped in the '80s, but it fits nicely into today's scene, a period where hiking, climbing- and GORP-inspired designs prove popular.
"Releasing originally in 1982, the HL710 Rainier hiker was introduced as a lightweight hiking option for consumers in contrast to a plethora of heavy hiking shoes in the market at the time," Kevin Trotman, New Balance's Associate Product Manager of Collaborations and Energy, says. "The Rainier’s most notable characteristic may not even come from the construction but from the fact that in 1984 a notable hiker successfully climbed Mt. Everest in the boots."
That hiker was Lou Whittaker, a well-known mountaineer who's made hundreds of trips to the top of Mount Rainier and aided a group to Everest's summit. (His brother, Jim Whittaker, was the first American to summit Mount Everest.) On one of his ascents, he nearly lost his feet, he told Gear Patrol in 2016, but a pair of mesh running sneakers helped save him from amputation. They were breathable and comfortable, and although they weren't nearly as supportive as his boots, they proved capable of getting him up the mountain nonetheless. He took his idea for a hybrid hiking boot — a high-top sneaker atop a lugged outsole — to New Balance owner Jim Davis.
"The lighter it gets, the better," Whittaker said. "The same goes for your feet — each quarter pound of boot is burning calories as you pick up your foot, so if you can go to 21,000 feet with a lightweight shoe, it’s just an incredible change. That was my whole idea for the Rainier boots in getting them to be lightweight, but to have good traction and the best sole you could ever get."
On Aimé Leon Dore's edition, it's a rubber Vibram sole with a jagged tread pattern. It'd probably work on an uneven trail, but these are probably best worn around town, either with sweatpants or slacks. The Rainier Boot is finished with both leather and nubuck accents, laced using brass hardware and adorned with debossed logos. They also have a waterproof membrane meant to keep your feet (and socks) dry.
"Staying true to the functionality of the silhouette, elements we wanted to include were keeping the Cordura upper while also adding Gore-Tex," Trotman says. But he knows the hiking arena is a competitive one, and the Rainier is as much a lifestyle shoe as it is an outdoors one. "It was important for us to give more than one look and feel with ALD’s take on the Rainier. The three different colorways pay homage to the atheistic of the time period while allowing the consumer the option to dress up or down via the options provided."
This dark maroon and tan iteration is much more tame than the electric color combos that came before it: one in neon green and brown and another in stormy gray and purple. It's the most functional across, well, functions: to be worn on an actual hike or to a bar, for example. Hyper-functionality isn't that much of a flex anymore — you can wear pretty much anything anywhere — but this boot sort of started the trend.
The New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore Rainier Boot drops at 10am EST on January 13th.