How Palace Skateboards Broke America

Lev Tanju's brand blended luxury with pally affordability – and mum jokes.

by Joe Bish; illustrated by Tom Humberstone
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May 5 2017, 2:41pm

Last year, Jonah Hill – an Oscar-nominated actor who has starred in Martin Scorsese films alongside Leonardo DiCaprio – appeared in an online ad for skateboard brand Palace's collaboration with British sportswear giant Reebok. Rumour has it he did it for free, getting paid in trainers, hats and shirts. To promote the New York store – which opens today, and is the only Palace location outside of London – Hill again featured in a promo video, complaining to his agent about getting "paid in stickers". Both ads are about as far removed from typically po-faced fashion promos as you could get – which, when it comes to Palace, is absolutely no surprise.

In the space of eight years, founder Lev Tanju's brand has gone from being Supreme's scrappy London sibling to a worldwide cultural force, worn by celebrities and musicians, but also guys and girls (but mostly guys) who smoke weed and sit in dark living rooms until 6AM trying not to grow up. Its Instagram features well-shot fashion photography, captioned with mum jokes and raging barks about smoking zoots. The floor of Palace's London store is an opulent white marble number with a black italicised P in the centre, but the shop is staffed exclusively by friends and family. It's high and low, luxury and accessibility wrapped into one, and wildly popular for it.

The advert for Palace's New York store

Palace was originally the Palace Wayward Boys Choir, a joke name for the group of skaters who hung out together at Southbank and shared houses in south London. The brand's aesthetic seems closely linked to this part of the capital, the moody surroundings of Elephant and Castle turned cotton, thread and velour – another example of the blend of lo-fi and aspirational Palace excels at. It's for that same reason their Versace-style Medusa head T-shirt was so popular – it's dragging luxury down to the level of the everyman, allowing everyone a slice.

I say everyone; what I really mean is whoever's able to get their hands on the newest stuff before it all sells out. "You'd have to be sort of dead, deaf, dumb, blind to not think they just did what no one else had done, which was sort of copy the Supreme playbook," says fashion writer Daryoush Haj-Najafi, about Palace's tactic of producing short runs, keeping availability low and demand high.

Palace has another contemporary in New York's Hood By Air, a brand formed at parties, with one mastermind who wanted his logo as big and bold as it could be. HBA has headed down a different route, but the methodology of success is similar. "I guess every genius steals, right?" says Haj-Najafi. "So I don't see anything wrong with that, because they gave it a really British set of references."

An image from the Palace SS17 lookbook

That Britishness has undoubtedly played a role in Palace's popularity – both in the UK, authentically reimagining classic British style tropes, and in the US, which is enjoying a second British invasion. As grime basks in its mainstream glory and the US finally catches on, the aesthetic becomes more appealing to its newfound fans. Conveniently, Palace are there waiting with their Reebok Classics and branded windbreakers to plug the gap. Tracksuits are, of course, not foreign to Americans – as anyone who's watched The Sopranos can attest – but pumping the scally-luxe look at a bunch of unsuspecting American teenagers is quite a feat.

Plenty of skate brands making nice clothes – Thames, Yardsale, Alltimers – have popped up in the time Palace has been around, but none have managed nearly the same level of global success. So beyond the whole authenticity and exclusivity thing, what has Palace got so right?

An image from the Palace SS16 lookbook

"The massive boom in buying and reselling has meant that Palace has ridden the wave of teenagers who have thousands of pounds to spend a year on clothes," says Haj-Najafi, of the mini-economy online, in Facebook groups like Wavey Garms and The Basement. That undoubtedly plays a part, yes, but aside from the resale market Palace also has to be commended on its quality and attention to detail, both in the clothes and all the thing on the periphery.

The company releases videos and presents itself in a way that's completely unserious, and for the most part actually genuinely funny. And in a world of branded Twitter banter and shonky comedy-ads, that's quite a feat. They also have a sideline in releasing very headsy techno music in collaboration with headsy music label The Trilogy Tapes. It's totally informal, and the mixture of stoner comedy vibes and good clothes with nice cuts is a no-brainer for most kids. The approachability of the brand makes you feel a part of it in a way other fashion doesn't; it's become almost a subculture in and of itself, and people want in.

"The thing is that they care – they're not trolling their audience," says Haj-Najafi. "I think the thing with some brands is that they are trolling their audience, so that to wear it marks you out as a knob rash because you don't get that you're the butt of the joke, unless they gave it you themselves."

Ultimately, what Lev and his friends have created is a fun club that you can be part of if you wear the uniform. And with the launch of the New York store, and exposure to an even wider audience, you can guarantee that the already long lines outside their shops on drop day are only going to get longer.

@joe_bish

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