The year was 1991, and the world of sports and culture was about to undergo some serious changes. A primitive version of America Online became publicly available and launched what would become the Internet Age. Some dude named Michael Jordan would finally get over the hump and win his first NBA title. And PUMA would forever change the running game with the debut of their Trinomic cushioning technology, which was featured in the heel of a sneaker that to this day continues to be one of the brand’s signature silhouettes: the R698.
While today’s running culture is all about minimalizing and cutting weight in whatever way possible–including in the soles–the early 1990s saw a massive influx of sneakers that tried to maximize the amount of cushioning in running shoes. Up to that point the job of shock absorption was solely the responsibility of the EVA outsole, which by 1991 was industry standard and could be found in pretty much any sneaker around. But then PUMA dropped the R698 and changed everything.
The R698 was the first sneaker to feature PUMA’s Trinomic cushioning technology, a unique hexagonal structure in the sole that compresses and redistributes load as you move. The Trinomic honeycomb cells offer additional cushioning and support, and this previously unheard of combination made the R698 a huge hit in the 1990s running community. It was simply unheard of for a sneaker to offer that level of support yet still remain light enough to be a shoe you could actually run hard in.
But that was almost 25 years ago. Surely other shoes have come around since then that offer just as comfortable a ride?
Not so much, according to sneaker influencer @eddiewinkicks. Even though it may be over two decades since the runner’s original release, he says that when it comes to the R698, “That Trinomic sole is such a sleeper in the comfort department. It really works well with my foot. Perfect combo of softness and stability.”
If there’s one thing you can always count on when you invest in a pair of PUMA sneakers, it’s longevity. The dressed-down simplicity and comfortable fit of the silhouettes make PUMA one of the most versatile brands around, and perhaps no design fits that model better than the R698. The multiple panels on the upper have made them essentially a blank canvas for collabs, allowing for a wide spectrum of colorways and materials to be used in creating completely unique designs.
Eddie Win feels this characteristic is a major part of the reason why the R698 is “the best PUMA model..they’ve stood the test of time.”
You don’t have to be a serious sneakerhead to know that running shoes don’t usually have the flashiest, most eye-catching design. But what’s made the R698 such a uniquely successful presence for such a long time is the fact that its design is constantly changing, with new colorways constantly challenging the way we look at the design of runners.
“Colorways usually are what draw my attention and [the R698s] look completely different than other runners,” @eddiewinkicks says, adding that “they’re certified classic runners.”
With so many options, the R698 is perhaps PUMA’s most frequently used sneaker for collabs. Last year alone, PUMA partnered with huge names like Ronnie Fieg for his Sakura project, Brooklyn We Go Hard (BWGH), and Frank the Butcher. The Frank the Butcher partnership–part of his “Eat What You Kill” collection–was a massive success with sneakerheads everywhere; at one point, @eddiewinkicks was offered a trade: some Jordan retros for his BAU R698s. He couldn’t do it.
And it’s not just sneakerheads who love the R698, either. You can count Super Bowl winning wide receiver Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots among PUMA’s biggest fans as well. He told us recently, “I am huge fan of the BAU X PUMA R698, those are some awesome shoes with some great colorways. PUMA is coming up in the game with all of these collaborations.”
One of the more underrated byproducts of the R698’s malleability is the fact that, despite ostensibly being a runner, its many different designs make it a fit for any style or season. For good weather where pure style is your goal, you can rock suede. If you’re being more active and need something that’s going to keep your feet from overheating, you can go with mesh. Or, if you need to lock that heat in and go with something more durable, some leather mids will get you through those winter months where style often takes a back seat to function.
Not only does the R698 stand out on its own, but it also fits seamlessly with pretty much any style. And with so many colorways to choose from, there’s an R698 out there that fits with essentially any outfit.
“Stuff that is comfortable to be in but fashion forward enough to not look like some old sweat pants and sweatshirt…it’s a good shoe to be out in the streets with doing your daily thing,” says @eddiewinkicks.
Indeed, the R698 fits in lockstep with PUMA’s overall philosophy of embracing its roots and avoiding the temptation to modernize too aggressively. While change is inevitable, the R698 has been able to evolve through the years while maintaining the same aesthetic integrity, something rare in the sneaker world. For 2016, expectations are high.
“It’s gonna be another boss year for the R698,” Eddie Win says. “I’m stoked to see the upcoming collabs. PUMA has some of the best apparel in the game, and I think the R698 completes the look of rocking PUMA clothes.”
While it remains to be seen exactly how the R698 will one-up itself yet again in 2016, based on its rich history there’s no doubting new designs are just around the corner for this PUMA classic.
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