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Concepts' track record speaks for itself. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based retailer has amassed dozens of sneaker collaborations across its 24-year history with the likes of New Balance, Nike, Adidas, and beyond. Its work with New Balance, its Bostonian neighbor, has been some of the strongest and most memorable with themes ranging from 999s nodding to John F. Kennedy's love for sailing to 997s crafted to resemble Hermes bags.
Today, Concepts reveals its latest collaboration, the "Cape" New Balance 327, set to launch on Aug. 7 for $140. For plenty of Massachusetts natives, the Cape Cod peninsula is a go-to summer destination. Its close ties to the Kennedy family inspired the "Hyannis" release named after a village on the peninsula. But the area is also known for something a little more obscure—its massive cranberry bogs. When researching this project, Concepts creative director Deon Point says he became intrigued by the "Red Devil" (or more simply known around the country as a vodka cranberry), a drink drummed up by Ocean Spray back in 1946 to help up the sales of cranberry juice that has become a signature of sorts for the area. The "Cape Codder," as it came to be known by locals, was also a popular drink of the Kennedys, subtly advancing the storytelling started by the "Kennedy" 999 nine years ago.
The pair's execution is straightforward with a color palette and premium materials to represent the various aspects of the refreshing mixed drink. It also acts as the latest collab in an impressive lineup that has been curated by New Balance in 2020 that has ranged from an assortment of 992s that instantly sold out to an original silhouette from Jaden Smith.
We got a chance to speak with Point about the upcoming "Cape" 327, New Balance's big year, COVID-19's impact on the launch, and more. Check out the interview below.
Concepts is known for its storytelling with collabs. Explain the inspiration for this latest collaboration with New Balance.
I think we went a little bit more literal than we typically do. We usually dive into a story on all fronts. With this, we saw the model early on. I think maybe I got to view a couple of samples early, fell in love with it immediately, and we were jumping around and toying with what to do. We wanted to extend the "Hyannis" vibe, but I wasn't exactly sure how to walk that line without being too similar. I was looking at things that just pertain to Cape Cod in particular. This jumped out to me, something that aligned with what the tourists think of the Cape, and also just people that live locally.
We were looking at colors and things, and what made sense was the Cape Codder, which in 1946, it was basically pitched as a drink to help sell Ocean Spray cranberry juice. It was called the Red Devil back then. So I looked into that a little bit; I noticed that members of the Kennedy family took that drink and added their own touch. I know Rose Kennedy did one with, I think, a different juice. It became popular on the peninsula. So it isn't necessarily something that has legs like most of our stories, but I thought it would make for great colors within the shoe. We just really wanted to have fun with this one and keep it casual, and pick something that went from night to day specifically during the summer season. Obviously, this was just prior to us knowing there wouldn't be a summer.
You mentioned the Kennedys and "Hyannis." So for people who've been following the brand, this is almost like a spinoff to the Kennedy theme in a way?
Yeah. So with the "Hyannis," the first iteration and the secondary launch, we really covered a lot. There wasn't really much left to do in terms of the packaging in both iterations. We didn't want to do anything that was just so obvious. I think with this one, it touches on it. If you know, you know.
When it comes down to translating this idea that you have onto the shoe, how did you settle on materials, color blocking, and stuff like that?
Typically, we dive a lot deeper in and we get a little bit too cryptic. I think in the past, especially with New Balance, some of the details and storylines have gotten lost in us just being a little too creative. So for this one, let's scale it back. The shoe just spoke to me. I loved it and I didn't think it needed much. I knew the "N" was a big focus for them. The models I had seen way back when, there was suedes and leathers and things like that. We opted for it to be translucent, which we thought represented ice. And then the nylon, since we couldn't nail it with suede, the nylon is this burgundy, but it gets a bit lighter. So it's extremely gradient up close when you hold it in your hands.
It resembles the drink being watered down in the top, and getting darker as it flows to the bottom of the drink. The lime hit is just alluding to the garnish. It's super literal. We added the blue for the water because we thought that would be cool. We loved the way it came out. It's something unique for us to do because we usually go a bit over. Sometimes they have to pull me back in when I'm down the rabbit hole. This one's definitely a lot more fun for us.
The 327 is one of the newer models from the brand. Did you feel like you had more creative freedom since there isn't much of a history behind it yet?
Absolutely. I got the cheat sheet because I had maybe four or five iterations in front of me when I first saw it. I got to see it take to material. Obviously, the sole was extremely unique. We initially went with gum and we did some clear translucent colored options, but it just wasn't coming through the right way. Between the "N" and the sole, I wasn't sure which one was going to steal the show. I figured since the "N" is so obvious, let's mute that down a little bit and let the sole live. I think that's where the ice bottom came into play. That was twofold for us. One was giving it a little bit more attention as it's one of the things your eyes see immediately, but also just growing up, wearing Air Force 1s, and just loving ice bottoms. I know gum is all people ever talk about, but ice bottoms were a thing. I think with true aficionados they still hold some ground. We thought that that would be a cool little play on that as well.
What did you like about getting to work on this silhouette rather than something a little more classic from the brand like a 997, 992, or something that has a little bit more of a history behind it?
I love the 992. I know there's some great people working on that simultaneously. I think we also saw high end sneakers. I know some shoes got a little too chunky and bulky, but the ones that are doing it right are a mainstay for the future. We were drawn to that, and I think just the challenge of doing something new. We've done 997s, 998s, some of the classics. I'll be honest, they've had extreme success, but it feels like a little bit of a layup for us. So when we get to try something new with [New Balance], we're pretty eager to participate, where I think other retailers maybe are a little bit hesitant. We did this quite some time ago. With COVID-19 and everything hitting, it got pushed back. I think it was actually supposed to release closer to February and March even, or something like that, as a precursor to summer. Casablanca and some of those guys did an exceptional job bringing [the 327] to market. I think we were supposed to come out around the same time, but once we saw what everybody was doing with it and just the way it's been selling, I don't think we were too bummed that we were a little bit late to the game.
How do you feel about this resurgence that New Balance has seen as a whole in 2020?
It's exceptional. I got to shout out Joe Grondin at New Balance for sure. He's done an amazing job of keeping some retailers at bay, because I know he's hounded all the time to do projects. And then you got Teddy [Santis], Ronnie [Fieg], Joe [Freshgoods], those guys just doing an exceptional job of keeping the brand in motion. A lot of people tend to forget how busy the inline program is too. We have a tremendous relationship with them, but obviously it's great. The brand is on fire, and we've seen it just do tremendous all the way through. There's definitely been quite a spike, and I think a lot of it's attributed to some of the aforementioned guys just doing some amazing stuff. They're still a conservative brand to some extent, but I think some of the projects they've taken on and the partners they've taken on have been a little bit out of the ordinary for them.
Obviously, we know what brands are hot outside of it, but I think New Balance is really not only doing a job of holding their own, but just carving out their own niche market. There are brand loyalists, but then there's kids that just want to try some new things, and they're asking about older models. There's bots in place. That's always a good sign I guess for your brand if people are taking the time out to do that. I couldn't be happier for those guys, and we're just obviously super happy to be a part of it.
Concepts has a very extensive archive of projects they've done over the years. At this point, do you have carte blanche to sort of do whatever you want?
Yeah, I hope so [laughs]. But I think even right now the conversation we're having for next year, it's based on a newer model. I know there's other guys that are just more conservative and they're like, "No, I need it to be this." The aficionados and loyalists are like, "Oh, we like this." We're totally comfortable letting those guys continue to do that. I don't think there's any need for us to play it safe at this point. We're super eager to help with anything we can lend some energy to. This was one for us. We've done some crazy stuff in the past, maybe a little bit premature. Like when we did the "Lake Havasu," I think that I was taking a little bit of a chance, even though the guys in Europe were like all over it.
The "ESRUC" 997S was fairly new for us. We did it on a 998 before I switched it over. I was a little hesitant at that time, but that did extremely well for us. So I think we're really happy with doing some new stuff with them. They've said no to me before. They've definitely been like, "Okay chill," which you need. I don't want anybody giving us the keys to the kingdom, but they have definitely been pretty good about letting us do some stuff. So we're blessed.
Concepts has been designing these collabs with various brands for so many years. There's celebrated projects like the Lobsters for instance, or the Kennedys, and stuff like that. Does anticipating that reaction and legacy a shoe could have affect your process at all?
I think that we definitely like to keep it a bit more timeless. There are instances where we could have jumped on a trend and we've passed. We've had some arguments in the office. It gets a little heated because there is easy money in low hanging fruit. But for us, I think we do want to be viewed as someone that you can look back 10 years from now and be like, okay, that still makes sense. The bring backs are a little bit of an easier combo if the timing is right. I think for "Hyannis," we brought that back because we could actually finally make a 999 made in the US, so that was a big story for us. I know they redid the "Rose"  on a 574, which we were cool with that. They've done so many great things for us.
We try to keep that stuff at bay when we can, but there's definitely instances, like the "Lobster." I've done so many "Lobsters" at this point. I don't even eat seafood, so it's out of control for me to try to find new and creative ways to do that. But it seems like the hunger is there. We have certain things that are in our warehouse that we can bring back out. But for us, we definitely like to try to figure out ways we can create new stories, keep it exciting, and just keep people slightly off balance without knowing what to expect. When they look back years from now, they're still comfortable wearing it, and it didn't just feel like a moment.
Obviously the pandemic has affected rollouts and releases for everyone in different ways. How has the pandemic impacted how you've been operating?
It's definitely been an opportunity for us to look back at things and say things a little bit differently than we have in the past just because we're used to working pretty quickly and things falling into place. There's never really been an instance where things have went smooth for us. We're definitely conditioned to be more reactive, and that's dating all the way back as long as I've been with the company. It's always been delays, and shipping issues, and things like that. [COVID-19] definitely put things in a tough spot. We'll be a little bit dialed in for the remainder of the year. There will be a lot more coming down the pipeline, but that was just because we didn't want to overload too much, and we still have 2021 to think about. We'll be pretty busy from here on out, but we're excited that this project will be the kickoff to all that stuff. We did have one other project with New Balance that was coming. It was supposed to be around the Billions collab that we did not too long ago. That got pushed back, but as luck would have it, so did the show. Hopefully that all works out.