The Highsnobiety Crowns are an annual awards series celebrating the very best in streetwear and street culture over the past 12 months. See the full list of this year’s winners here.
When we talk about streetwear’s ascent to the mainstream, a number of individual success stories merit their own discussion. The rise of British label Palace Skateboards is unquestionably one such story. And in a year of strong collaborations, the London skate brand with the off-kilter humor gave us 2018’s two most memorable dual-branded drops.
Since its founding by Lev Tanju in 2009, Palace has built its identity on a distinctly British approach to streetwear, paying homage to the gaudy style found in turn-of-the-millennium UK nightclubs through references to brands such as Moschino, Versace, Iceberg, and Stone Island, and embracing the country’s working class football culture.
This led to collaborations with some of Europe’s best-known sportswear brands. Whether rebooting England’s 1990 World Cup football jersey with Umbro or releasing a pair of leather Reebok trainers that everyone owned growing up because they only cost 40 quid, Palace’s collaborations have always had a strange symbiosis to them.
Umbro, for example, was happy to collaborate because it got to look cool — which honestly hasn’t always been the case — and Palace was happy because it got to slap a Tri-Ferg on its favorite national team top. Win-win.
A combination of irreverence, authenticity, and self-awareness has empowered Palace to make moves that might have seemed riskier to other brands. Its ongoing work with adidas took a massive left turn this year with the adidas Tennis hookup ahead of Wimbledon, resulting in full court ensembles for men and women, complete with sweatbands, dresses, visor caps, tennis balls, and even an umbrella.
Brands that shift too far from their roots can meet resistance. This year, people celebrated Jordan Brand x Paris Saint-Germain, but in 2014, when Jordan Brand revealed a collaboration with Roger Federer on a NikeCourt Zoom Vapor that borrowed heavily from the Air Jordan 3, the Jumpman’s infamously purist fanbase was sniffy, even if Fed-heads were on board.
What Palace has done better than almost any other brand is to remind customers that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and nor should you.
The tennis collection’s lookbook, featuring skaters Lucien Clarke and Rory Milanes striking exaggerated poses on a sunny tennis court, stuck to the brand’s MO: adding a sense of fun to stuffy old SW19 but still recognizing Wimbledon’s heritage (the uniforms were simple and white, after all). With that formula, there’s no reason Palace can’t in future put its touch to any number of Anglocentric pastimes, be they snooker or darts — which would be banging, by the way.
Oh, and Angelique Kerber won the tournament wearing the gear.
One big Palace success down, but something was yet to come that would be unquestionably one of the year’s biggest stories: Palace x Ralph Lauren. Whatever your opinion of the collection, there’s no denying that the meeting of a young London skate brand with one of the most venerated names in American menswear was a big deal — even in the context of an era in which Virgil Abloh is at the head of Louis Vuitton.
After all, some of streetwear’s biggest brands were influenced by Ralph Lauren’s ’80s and ’90s output. Many Supreme outerwear and jersey designs are virtually one-for-one reproductions of Polo classics. Likewise, former Supreme creative director Brendon Babenzien’s label Noah takes inspiration from the preppy style Ralph Lauren helped to popularize.
For historic fashion labels, without careful refurbishment, their lofty reputations and storied pasts can start to look a bit dusty. For brands such as Ralph Lauren, the changes happening in fashion over recent years have represented the perfect opportunity to grasp a new narrative and win over a younger audience.
Of all the heritage brands with a genuine claim to streetwear credibility, Ralph Lauren might be top of the list. But for whatever reason, until this year it had never taken advantage of its organic connection to the scene — something Highsnobiety editorial director Jian DeLeon pondered in his recent piece to mark the brand’s 50th-anniversary celebrations.
At a time when every storied house from Paris to Milan has been participating in an increasingly desperate scramble to create its own chunky sneaker, luxury tracksuit, or street culture moment (“How do you do, fellow kids?”), Ralph Lauren partnering with one of streetwear’s biggest names and allowing a virtually free rein over its brand signatures (right down to the heelflipping Polo Bear) was an incredibly subtle flex.
Like Supreme x Louis Vuitton before it, Palace x Ralph Lauren was a coup, and one the New York brand was crying out for. From the skateboarders on the Brooklyn Banks to the Lo Lifes or any kid who bought a Pony-embroidered Oxford shirt to wear to a club or house party, Ralph Lauren’s legacy in streetwear is already well established. In 2018, it simply found a savvy way to join the party, making headlines in the process.
And that’s why the Best Collaboration Highsnobiety Crown for 2018 goes to Palace. Against all expectations, it has become a label that can move comfortably between the skaters in London’s South Bank, winning tennis’ most fabled tournament, Friday night pints at the pub, a pick-up game of football in the park, and jumping a horse over the hood of a Volkswagen Golf in collaboration with the fashion standard-bearer for Ivy League types. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Palace is that kid in your class who never seemed to study, yet always nailed the tests. You thought the fact they weren’t acting seriously was going to do them harm in the long run, but in the end, that turned out to be their biggest asset. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Hackney or the Hamptons — they’re just clothes.