If there’s one thing Palace Skateboards has done over the past eight years, it’s break the rules. When it comes to fashion and style, anyone in the industry will tell you there’s a way things are done: a convention; rules and regulations. Like any other field, the art of making and selling clothes is a method that’s been perfected through trial and error over decades. Cast your mind back to when Kanye first entered fashion and began an internship at Fendi. One of the reasons many people in the industry were so frustrated by this news was the fact that West hadn’t gone through the conventional channels to get there, and as a result the idea of him receiving the real experience of an internship at an Italian fashion house was patently absurd. Though we all might hate the dogma of any industry, we often equally resent the people that fail to respect it.
On the other hand, every so often something comes along which seems to fly in the face of all convention, flouting every preconceived notion of how things should be done. And gets away with it. More than that, makes a killing.
This, in my eye, is the central phenomenon of British skate brand Palace Skateboards. From humble beginnings selling t-shirts in a handful of London stores, Palace has erupted into one of the biggest streetwear brands in the world.
But far from approaching their success with greater levels of professionalism, the Palace team has only gotten more belligerent; clapping back at negative comments on Instagram, exploiting every new release as an opportunity to take the piss, and using their online store’s product descriptions less as a space to sell product, and more as a space to insult their customers (and their mothers). If they carry on at this rate, Spring/Summer 2018 will just be a load of t-shirts of dudes giving you the brown eye, and it’ll sell out faster than ever.
Nonetheless, beneath their obnoxious exterior, there’s a lot of depth to the Palace backstory. With that in mind, here’s a comprehensive guide to one of the most interesting brands in skateboarding and streetwear today.
PWBC: The Origins of Palace
In the late ‘00s, Lev Tanju and a number of other London skaters were living in a squat flat in Waterloo near London’s iconic Southbank skate park. Ironically referred to as ‘The Palace’, the squat’s regular inhabitants became jokingly known as the ‘Palace Wayward Boys’ Choir’, a play on the Victorian religious charity organizations you’d expect to read about in a Charles Dickens novel. When Tanju decided to start his own skate brand down the line, the name was obvious; Palace.
The Palace Logo
From the Nike Swoosh or the adidas 3-stripes to Apple’s iconic bitten apple, the most effective logos are simple, clear and distinctive. The Palace logo is no exception in this regard, and was designed by legendary London illustrator Fergus Purcell aka ‘Fergadelic’. Having previously designed for labels like Stüssy, as well as his own brands Tonite and Silas, Purcell is no stranger to creating strong, compelling graphic designs. I actually interviewed him a few years back and he explained the situation quite simply: Lev Tanju came to him with a brand completely planned out, and all he needed was a logo. Drawing from his vast knowledge of pop culture and comic books, Ferg came back with a modified take on the Penrose Triangle featuring ‘Palace’ branding on each of the impossible object’s sides. The Palace logo was a triangle designed by Fergadelic – a ‘Tri-Ferg’. Then Rihanna wore it and the rest is history.
The VHS Aesthetic
One of the things that immediately set Palace apart from other skate brands in the scene was the distinctive lo-fi aesthetic of their videos. At a time when the skate industry, like everyone else, was pushing ever further toward HD 1080p video and surround sound, Palace suddenly popped up with a series of short, grainy videos that looked like they’d come straight out of the ‘90s. Tanju’s reasoning for this choice was that, when he watched classic ‘90s skate videos, there was something about the raw, low quality that the newer technology seemed to lose. He clearly wasn’t the only one who felt this way, as the style proved a hit with viewers and became a core element of their early identity. Combined with the laid-back, “who cares” attitude of their videos and DIY aesthetic, Palace’s early videos looked like the kind of footage you’d film with your mates with a crappy handicam on the weekends, and captured the essence of street skating.
The Slam City Skates Connection
Another thing that the Palace brand had going for it from the early days was its connection to legendary London skate store and distribution company, Slam City Skates. For over 25 years, the Slam City team has been the de facto gatekeepers of the London skate scene (and maybe even the whole UK). Being founded by a bunch of London skaters meant Palace was sure to get support from the Slam City team, which is pretty much the best co-sign you could ask for, and Slam City co-owner Gareth Skewis is also joint-owner of Palace with Lev Tanju. The result was a combination of Lev’s creative vision and Skewis’s unparalleled knowledge of the skate distribution business. Has it worked out for them? Duh.
The Reference Points
At its core, Palace is a skate brand, but like many other labels, they incorporate a wealth of references into their designs that celebrate broader elements of British culture. Tracksuits, shellsuits and windbreaker jackets pay tribute to the sportswear silhouettes that will be familiar to any working class British person and are a popular choice of clothing for the Palace skaters.
More flamboyant parts of the brand’s collections, such as their penny loafers and chelsea boots or the quite literally fruity shirts and trousers of their most recent drop, pay homage to Italian fashion labels like Moschino, Versace and Iceberg that were the UK club culture uniform in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s (reiterated through nods to Italian luxury sportswear a la ‘Palazzo’ and so on).
Lastly, the history of dance culture, from the original Chicago house scene, to the UK’s ‘90s rave scene right through to the present day, features heavily in the brand’s designs. On the more obvious side, you’ve got pieces like a Palace logo tee covered in Mitsubishi ecstasy pills, symbolic of original rave culture, or the occasional psychedelic all-over print that look like they’ve come straight out of the glamorous days of UK Garage. But take a closer look and you’ll find much deeper references; in one of their earliest collections, the brand released the ‘Rockin’ Palace’ t-shirt, featuring a flip of the logo for Rockin’ House Records, an early Chicago House label founded by dance music pioneer Rodney Bakerr.
Palace’s interests in music goes beyond fashion and logo flips, as well. The brand is well-connected to The Trilogy Tapes, an independent London record label run by Will Bankhead. Bankhead is probably one of the most knowledgeable people on dance music in the UK right now, and every so often The Trilogy Tapes and Palace cross paths for a vinyl release.
In 2014 they released a 12” by Chicago House legend Theo Parrish, followed by a split release by Mix Mup and Kassem Mosse, and then a 12” for Syrian dance music extraordinaire and general legend Omar Souleyman featuring remixes by Rezzett on the reverse. There’s an Omar S. Palace T-shirt floating around from a few years back as well which is, frankly, nothing short of fantastic.
The Palace Skate Team
Though the brand is pretty quiet about their day-to-day operations, one thing that Tanju has made clear about Palace Skateboards from the beginning is his ultimate goal: to make enough money to be able to pay his mates to go out, skate as much as they want and not have to worry about anything else.
In this regard, he’s been true to his word, and the Palace skate team is a mish-mash roster of pros, amateurs and close friends that all feel the benefit of being part of the UK’s coolest skate team. At the center you’ve got UK skate icons Chewy Cannon and Benny Fairfax, Lucien Clarke and Blondey McCoy (faces of most of the brand’s recent campaigns), as well as Charlie Young, Danny Brady, Shawn Powers, Olly Todd, Torey Goodall, and Rory Milanes. Other regular faces in the brand’s videos include Karim Bakhtaoui and Gabriel ‘Nugget’ Pluckrose.
2009: The Early Days
Palace first emerged onto the London scene very unceremoniously in 2009, popping up in a handful of boutique stores like The Hideout (R.I.P.) with little more than a whisper. Initial designs like the brand’s now iconic Versace and Chanel flips sold out to those in the know, and within a year ripples started to spread throughout the city. Other stores that were quick to pick it up include Present in East London’s Shoreditch and Liverpool’s iconic Lost Art skateshop.
If I remember correctly, the brand’s original Tri-Ferg tees were reversible with a different color design on the reverse, so if you ever see a reversible Palace tee going for cheap on eBay, snap it up. Don’t do it if it’s expensive though, Lev will just laugh at you on social media. You were warned.
2011: Supreme London Opens
Comparisons between Palace Skateboards and New York’s original irreverent streetwear label are a dime a dozen these days, but the connections were present even in the early days, and many people theorized that the brand was deliberately following the Supreme model, or was maybe even part-funded by Supreme.
When Supreme opened their first European store in London in late 2011, many noticed that the Fall/Winter 2011 lookbook was modeled by Palace rider Lucien Clarke, and over the next few years Supreme would continue to focus its attention on British skateboarding culture, much to the benefit of Palace. Not only that; footwear aside, on the London store’s opening day, only two brands were available to purchase at Supreme: Supreme, and Palace. That’s the kind of promotion that money can’t buy.
The Palace ‘Pop-Off’ Shops
In the early days Palace was only available from skate stores (and the occasional boutique store), all of whom quickly sold out of product. The brand would also occasionally open an online store on their website for special releases, but trying to buy stuff from there was always a nightmare. From late 2012 to 2013, Palace first began dipping its toes in brick-and-mortar retail with a series of brief pop-up stores in London known as their ‘Pop-Off Shops’ or ‘Palace Retail Powerslide’.
In one of the first flashes of what would become the brand’s trademark irreverent sense of humor, flyers for the events promised ‘fully untrained staff’ and ‘posh new high-end shit’. Needless to say, the ventures proved to be a success and soon led to a more permanent fixture…
The Palace Shop in London
In April 2015, barely six years since the brand first launched, Lev and co made big steps when they announced the opening of the first ever Palace shop in London. Located in the heart of Soho on Brewer Street, the store’s plush marble flooring made clear references to the opulent Italian fashion labels that London’s youth wore during the UK Garage days (such as Moschino, Versace and Prada), and brought to the fore the brand’s unparalleled knack for taking the piss in the best way possible.
Located just around the corner from Supreme, the Palace shop has continued to benefit from the cross-pollination of hype between the two labels, with one clever adjustment; Supreme releases new product on a Thursday, so Palace releases theirs on Saturdays, giving the youth two days to run back home, drop off their bags and grabbeth more pea from Mumsie in time for the drop. Like clockwork.
The Palace Shop in New York
Having firmly conquered London in little more than two years, the choice was obvious when it came to the location for the next Palace shop. NYC is arguably the streetwear capital of the world, home to dozens of brands, sneaker stores and, obviously, skaters.
The latest chapter of Palace Skateboards continues in the brand’s ostentatious style, featuring a wall-sized velvet flag, marble flooring throughout, a giant TV screen at the background and, obviously a P-shaped fountain, obviously with a brass cherub who’s obviously holding a P whilst obviously taking a pee whilst obviously taking your p. Tanju’s japes have gone meta with this one.
How the Drops Work
Though the brand was a little bit more unpredictable in its infancy, these days Palace follows a relatively straightforward release schedule, releasing four seasonal collections a year; Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Spring and Fall tend to be a little bit larger, but recent releases have seen the brand dropping pretty hefty collections throughout the year, to be fair.
Collections tend to release in a handful of drops throughout the season, announcing at the beginning of the week and releasing on Saturdays, launching at 00:00 GMT on their online store and the following morning at brick and mortar locations. Try to cop from the safety and comfort of your bed, and if it all goes wrong, wrap up warm and prepare to camp. Isn’t choice a liberating thing?
The Collaborations: Palace Skateboards x Umbro
One of the best things about the Palace brand is their completely unapologetic celebration of streetwear and urban culture from a British perspective. From UK Garage and House music to football and beers, Palace has always made a point of celebrating their homegrown culture. In 2012, the Choir pushed this to the max with a collaboration with iconic British sportswear label Umbro.
The capsule collection featured a number of classic athletic pieces, capped off with a pair of football jerseys inspired by the England team’s official kit for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Then they rounded it all off with a grainy VHS tape of the whole gang drinking in a pub and watching the football. Absolutely flawless.
The Collaborations: Palace Skateboards x Reebok
For their next collaboration in 2013, Palace would join forces with another UK sportswear staple, this time on a footwear release. While Reebok might be better known for its aggressive basketball silhouettes in the U.S., back in Britain the brand is defined by its Reebok Classics training shoes. For their first footwear release, Palace recreated the Classic Leather and Workout silhouettes in classic color palettes with some subtle details including embossed Palace logo branding and very gaudy branded laces.
Americans might have been left scratching their heads, but to the UK, it made perfect sense. The two brands would reunite a number of times in the following years with increasingly bonkers promotional videos, most notably a bizarre infomercial starring comedy superstar and absolutely shameless streetwear fiend Jonah Hill.
The Collaborations: Palace Skateboards x Tate
Arguably the brand’s most interesting collaborative works to date, in late 2013 Palace founder Lev Tanju was invited by British art institution the Tate to experiment with artworks on display in the Tate Britain gallery and create a new series of skate decks. The three resultant graphics, created by projecting John Martin’s ‘The Great Day of his Wrath’ onto one of the sculptures in the gallery, were put on display in the gallery and, to my knowledge, were never physically released. Check out the video of Tanju explaining his creative process here:
The Collaborations: Palace Skateboards x adidas Originals
With Umbro and Reebok crossed off the list, all Palace needed to complete the European sportswear holy trinity was adidas Originals. In early 2014, they tested the waters when adidas Skateboarding produced a Tri-Ferg-decorated jersey and skate deck for Palace rider Benny Fairfax, followed in September with the brand’s most comprehensive collaborative release yet.
Once again, the designs leant heavily on adidas’ football legacy, channelling references to a number of classic kits across apparel, outerwear, accessories. True to form, Palace came through with a promotional video celebrating their collaboration with the ‘sportswear bigboys’, presented by a man who claimed to be (and definitely was) Palace founder Lev Tanju. Other cameos in the video include Benny Fairfax, Blondey McCoy and Fergus ‘Fergadelic’ Purcell.
The Collaborations: Palace Skateboards x Bronze 56k
Though Palace might be the best known brand in the new wave of independent, self-made skate brands, they’re certainly not the only one. Dime in Montreal, Quartersnacks in NYC, Polar Skate Co. in Sweden and loads of other teams around the world are reinventing the idea of skate brands in the 21st century. And though people often put Supreme and Palace alongside each other, Palace’s true kindred spirit is arguably NYC’s Bronze 56k skate team.
With their tongue-in-cheek graphics, lo-fi production style and raw, uncompromising approach to street skating, the Bronze guys were the perfect skate brand for a Palace collaboration. Joining up in 2015, a capsule collection of apparel and decks featured graphics by Shawn Powers, joint-branded Tri-ferg tees and some much-needed references to white powder. Tee hee.
Beyond Palace: Thames by Blondey McCoy
Over the years, a number of Supreme alumni have gone on to create their own projects; Aaron Bondaroff launched aNYthing, OHWOW Gallery and Know-Wave radio; Jason Dill runs his own brand Fucking Awesome; Angelo Baque has been putting the work in Awake, and so on. It seems fitting, then, that Palace has been encouraging members of its own clique to do the same.
Over the past few years, Palace rider and gold-toothed model Blondey McCoy has been working on his fledgling label, Thames. Inspired by London culture in its purest form, Thames incorporates imagery from Soho nightlife, London sculptures and more into his label, which is stocked in Palace’s brick-and-mortar stores as well as Dover Street Market London.
- Lead image: Alasdair McLellan