Coco Gauff, New Balance Unveil Modern Vintage ’90s Signature Tennis Shoe

Tennis star Coco Gauff enjoys plenty of practice writing her signature, especially as the 18-year-old has risen to No. 11 in the WTA world rankings. So, it wasn’t a big leap when Gauff needed to get that autograph flawless for the tongue of her signature tennis shoe, the Aug. 26 release of the New Balance Coco CG1.

“Admittedly, I’ve been using it more often than ever before, so just a few attempts,” she says about ensuring a spot-on signature for the sneaker. “I didn’t want to overthink it and then it was up to the New Balance designers to incorporate it the right way and I love how it turned out. I hope other people do as well.”

And she isn’t just talking about the tongue’s signature. She’s talking about one of the most technologically forward tennis shoes coming to market, all with a distinct ’90s vibe.

In a sport that made signature shoes popular more than five decades ago, the NB Coco CG1 becomes just the second signature tennis shoe for a current player in the sport (Roger Federer has the other). The signature isn’t the only portion distinct for today’s game, with a mid-top height, retro aesthetic and carbon fiber plate, each element of the Coco CG1 takes a fresh perspective on tennis footwear.

“It’s an absolute dream come true to be able to put my stamp on this sport with New Balance and hopefully inspire generations to come,” Gauff says. “I am really excited to see how people wear this shoe, on and off the court.”

The Design Process

Gauff signed with New Balance in 2018 at the age of 14 and her sudden rise to the upper echelon of the sport—she was playing on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in 2019 at age 15—gave New Balance reason to start thinking big. The signature model has been two years in the making, more a decision to celebrate Gauff’s future than her past.

Evan Zader, New Balance head of tennis sports marketing, says they don’t take doing a signature shoe lightly, but as a brand that prides itself on unique approaches to the space, a signature shoe of a female athlete in tennis fits the mold. “We looked at this opportunity to enter into a category that doesn’t have signature and have a female lead that,” he says. “It puts us at a different place and puts her at a different place. We are building off where she is going and not what she has done, using that as a starting place.”

MORE: Sitting Down With Coco Gauff

As with any signature shoe, the Coco CG1 started with Gauff. “With a signature product, you walk in with a blank slate,” says Josh Wilder, New Balance tennis product manager. “We are not going to push this on you or make you do this. It is sitting in a room and on Zoom calls and asking, ‘What do you want?’ and ‘What do we have that best works for you?'”

That’s why New Balance didn’t start with a silhouette, they took her feedback and built a new silhouette.

The process began with vision meetings, getting all the New Balance designers in the same room with Gauff, who brought her family and a friend, and surrounding them with potential inspiration, from magazine cutouts to materials to colors. “It was very much a blank slate of what do you like,” Wilder says, “putting that on a board and we will build around that.”

And that’s where the concept of vintage with a modern twist came from, featuring a wearable vintage mid-top upper on a platform filled with technology.

“There’s just something freeing about the color palettes and blending of styles in that era that has always stood out to me,” Gauff says. “I love putting a modern spin on those ’90s elements and it’s cool to see it coming back with my generation in so many ways.”

The vision meetings and conversations with Gauff kept coming. From the big meeting at New Balance headquarters in Boston to her dad’s empty Delray Beach, Florida, bar shut down by the pandemic, the behind-the-scenes work and exploration of materials and colors remained continuous.

“The results we got from that were so significant as an insight into an athlete that we hadn’t had before,” Zader says. “When you look at a signature, you got to make a statement. Coco was the one who said she wanted to wear a mid, and we jumped at the opportunity. When you put it up on a wall or a website, it will immediately pop off. That was the direction she wanted to go in and it aligned with where we were going from a technology and brand perspective.”

The process was part aesthetic design, part technology and part fit. Gauff was present throughout the many iterations of wear testing, including sessions at Boston College, tweaking the performance.

“I feel like I’m learning every day and trying to stay in the moment for every detail,” Gauff says. “I do feel I’ve brought some knowledge too. I’ve seen New Balance evolve so much in my short time and I’m glad they’re so open to my input and hearing my generation’s interests.”

The Technology

The Coco CG1 becomes one of the first retail-accessible tennis shoes to feature a carbon fiber plate. “Carbon fiber has been one of those mystical ingredients in a lot of athlete-specific models,” Wilder says. “As carbon fiber has infiltrated the running scene over the past years, that was a big part of what we wanted to do in tennis. A bit of the challenge was how we make it work for tennis specifically.”

The brand’s innovation team created multiple footbeds with different geometries, tweaking until it worked with the lateral movements of the sport, taking the final four concepts to a fit test with Gauff. Landing on the ultimate solution was the “Eureka moment” for the product team, especially with Gauff saying it gave her a sense of springiness.

Wilder says the Energy Arc technology is a carbon fiber plate that interacts with the softer FuelCell foam, all encased in rubber with strategic midsole voids to “allow the carbon fiber to spring back to give energy you need for marathon matches you might be playing.”

“I love to be explosive on court, so the new Energy Arc and FuelCell combination gave me a super responsive feel that was comfortable and felt super light,” Gauff says. “I honestly feel like it is going to help my ability to hit high balls and stay fresh.”

The upper technology on the $170 unisex shoe uses the unique color blocking popular in the ’90s, but with a FitWeave Lite technology borrowed from the basketball team and seen on the recently released TWO WXY V2. Early on, Gauff was drawn to translucent materials and the FitWeave Lite has that same translucency.

“This style,” Gauff says, “was meant to offer the best in tennis technology but be able to be worn off court as well. Popularity would be great, but I’m really hoping it can encourage kids to strive to be their best in whatever they love on and off the court.”

The Personal Touch

Gauff was as involved in the process as any athlete Zader has ever seen. “She’s heavily involved in not only the inspiration, but the feedback,” he says. “She’s very involved and she has been testing all the different versions from top to bottom, giving the direct feedback. Her inspiration brought this shoe about, and her feedback is how we got to this place.”

With involvement comes personal touches. The Coco CG1 features a basketball on the left heel and track spike on the right heel representing her parent’s collegiate sports. The right toe includes a quote from her dad, Corey Gauff, saying “You can change the world with your racket” and the left toe includes the coordinates of Pompey Park, where she grew up playing tennis.

“We talked a lot about my family and seeing those (pieces) come to life in the shoes was one of the most exciting parts for me,” Gauff says. Her personal model even includes her brother’s names on the shoelaces for the last thing she sees before she steps on the court.

Pompey Park provides a powerful connection for Gauff to tennis and her shoe. Her childhood courts with a Little League baseball field named after her grandfather nearby, the park serves as the name of the launch colorway, Pompey. The Pompey design features colors designers used throughout the process. “That was the color she really resonated with early on,” Wilder says. “We needed to bring it to market and the first time she saw the shoe put together was in that colorway. We unveiled it to her at Pompey Park, it was just a special thing to her.”

But there’s much more planned for the Coco CG1. Already New Balance has announced—but not revealed—the DigiCoco colorway for the U.S. Open. And having a true signature shoe with a distinct color palette opens opportunities for her head-to-toe on-court kits. Expect core colorways, slam colorways and classic colorways moving forward.

“There are a lot of colors still to come,” Gauff says. “I love the time I get with the design team, I just met with them recently and we reviewed some new designs, so I am excited to keep this fresh.”

New examples of the Coco CG1 will keep rolling out into 2023, especially as New Balance plays with the balance of on-court design and off-court appeal. “Overall,” Wilder says, “it was really a mishmash of our best technology and this really cool vintage modern tech.”

Gauff may have debuted the CG1 on court, but she knows her signature will have a life outside her feet or a tennis court. “I’m beyond humbled,” she says, “by the opportunity to design a shoe, so I may tear up just seeing it on people’s feet.”