It’s not a sneaker. It’s not a loafer. It’s a ‘snoafer.’

New Balance’s latest frankenshoe is a sneaker-loafer hybrid.  (New Balance)
New Balance’s latest frankenshoe is a sneaker-loafer hybrid. (New Balance)

Summary

New Balance’s 1906L isn’t coming out until August, but it’s already been memed into oblivion.

It’s the footwear equivalent of a spork. And no one knows what to make of it.

New Balance’s latest frankenshoe, the 1906L, is trapped between a sneaker and a loafer. It has grayed-out mesh paneling and a stabilizing sole—trademarks of the centurion sneaker company’s running shoes. But it lacks laces or even eyelets. The sneaker’s bulky silhouette has been shaved down into a purist loafer.

Like the liger, the Cronut and the chortle before it, this shoe is a confounding hybrid. Though it won’t be released until August, it has already been memed into oblivion. “I can’t wait to mow my lawn in these bad boys," read one comment on Instagram. “Church at 9 and dunking on the kids in the gym at 11," read another.

Even what to call this identity-crisis-stricken creation is up for debate. I said “snoafer," others “sneafer." In an interview, Charlotte Lee, the New Balance footwear designer behind the 1906L, referred to it simply as a loafer. (The name comes from the longstanding New Balance running shoe design, with an L tacked on for loafer.)

It’s now common for footwear giants to contort core styles into something new. In recent years, Nike, Adidas and New Balance have sliced the back heel off certain shoes to turn them into slip-on mules. But those were meant to be casual. The snoafer has greater ambitions.

Rather than march toward the couch, the snoafer takes an express elevator to the executive suite. It is a sneaker that dares to be worn with a suit. Lani Burton, New Balance’s senior product manager, who oversaw the 1906L’s Frankensteinian birth, said she hopes to see wedding pics featuring snoafer-wearing grooms.

Lee, the designer behind the shoe, said that the 1906L referenced trends swirling around the sneaker world, including techy running shoes and a pandemic-sparked obsession with comfort. “It feels like we are a brand which can blend between many lines," said Lee. She came up with the idea in June 2022, taking inspiration from New Balance’s history of making by-the-book brogues and boat shoes from around the ’80s and ’90s—a largely forgotten chapter in the brand’s history that Lee unearthed in the archive.

Notably, the snoafer manages to plow new ground on the stagnating dad-shoe trend. For about a decade, young men well shy of fatherhood have co-opted doughy, mesh-heavy trainers worn by middle-aged suburbanites everywhere. The 1906L ditches the youthful language of a sneaker, and instead blends with the silhouette of a country club loafer. Like a genetically modified tomato, it is the dad shoe perfected.

“It’s the best of all worlds where you want a hint of something that feels classier than a sneaker, a bit dressier than a mule," said Jian DeLeon, men’s fashion director at Nordstrom, who first spotted the style during its debut on the runway at the Junya Watanabe fashion show in Paris in January.

Prior attempts to fuse formal shoes with sneakers have produced mixed results. Cole Haan’s leather-uppered and sneaker-soled LunarGrands from the early 2010s remain a cubicle staple, and variations on the shoe have recently been worn by politicians including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.). They may have bipartisan appeal, but Cole Haan’s concoctions have faced derision from fashion critics.

Loro Piana’s $1,095 Open Walks—a suede loafer upper on a rubber sole—were for a time the unofficial shoes of the Davos-to-Sun Valley circuit. Other stabs, such as a 2019 steam-punky loafer/sneaker design Reebok made in collaboration with London fashion label Cottweiler, tried and failed to gain the snoafer a foothold.

Shoes like the LunarGrand always seemed to be shy about their sneakery side. Their whole intent was that you could wear them to the office and maybe fool your boss into thinking they were just a pair of Allen Edmonds. But the 1906L could never be mistaken for anything other than the bizarre mutt it is. It wears its sneaker and loafer DNA in equal, ostentatious measure, resulting in one strange, yet compelling, shoe.

“It works because it knows it’s goofy, and it knows it’s unserious," said Brendan Dunne, the head of sneakers at Complex magazine. He said he’s never owned a pair of loafers but plans to get the 1906Ls, which suit his jocular sensibility. “If you wear them, you’re not trying to be that serious," he said.

The new Balance team welcomes the jokes. “We can poke fun of ourselves," Burton said. Lee, for her part, called the memes the “ultimate compliment."

Write to Jacob Gallagher at jacob.gallagher@wsj.com

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
more

topics

MINT SPECIALS