The Rise of Palace: How Today's Coolest Skate Brand Went Global

Palace has become a huge brand not just in skateboarding, but across the entire board of men's style.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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If you skate, there's a good chance you were first introduced to Palace through their ill VHS edits. If you're an Internet style guy, you likely found the brand on an obscure, underground blog, fashion forum, or on the back of your favorite rapper's creative director. And if you're still caught up that the logo looks like that of tech site The Verge, then hit the back tab ASAP: you're in the wrong place.

It doesn't matter where you first came in contact with the irreverent coolness of the British brand. What's evident is that the core skate company has become coveted in certain menswear, streetwear, and hip-hop circles. Yet even in the face of such cross-cultural flaunting, trend-phobic skaters still find it fresh and relevant, thus striking a rare balance between being highly bloggable and still authentic in the eyes of its originally intended audience.

The brand's roots took hold roughly five years ago, when a London-based skate crew known as the Palace Wayward Boys Choir introduced a series of crudely-made, satirical "reports" on the then current state of skateboarding. Made by a bloke by the name of Lev Tanju using camera phones and low-fi VHS camcorders, the PWBC Global Skateboard News broadcasts (hosted online at Don't Watch That! TV) featured bootleg video clips of pros—the more gangster the better—mixed with local South Bank skaters, shedding light on the London skate scene while putting some of the city's cliché, hipster happenings on blast. Palace grew out of this, as an answer to the big brand, corporate bullshit driving skateboarding at the time—and many would argue still does. As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention. Or more appropriately, when everything around you sucks, do your own thing.

Designer Lev Tanju / Image via i-D

So Tanju turned to his homies for help, as anyone raised in the DIY skate culture would. Thankfully, said homies happened to be famed graphic designer Fergus “Fergadelic” Purcell (who in 2013 was named design director at Marc by Marc Jacobs) and fellow graphic designer and photographer Will Bankhead. The two created a clean, modern, cohesive, and all-around unfuckwithable design narrative that was minimal enough for people from various style tribes to make it their own, but insider enough to maintain its core appeal. People immediately took notice.

"I just wanted to make some skateboards that looked nice and skated good," explains Tanju. "I guess different types of people got into the tees from the start because people like Fergus and Bankhead were doing graphics. They have a following from outside of skateboarding so the first round of tees sold nice." From here, the brand's steady rise began, and seemingly hasn't stopped since.

Collaborations with a range of fellow British (and beyond) brands outside the skate industry appear often. In the UK, sport influences most all kids growing up—a fact reflected in the brands with which Tanju chooses to work, including Umbro, Reebok and adidas.

Umbro x Palace / Image via The Daily Street

But it's not just sports. Palace has even worked with the Tate Britain gallery. "I like nice shops and stuff outside of skateboarding sometimes too," Tanju jokes. Each collaboration is unique, curious, and undoubtedly ill. There's no shaking it; and that's what makes Palace so appealing. From fashion to hip-hop, no legit skate brand gets this much play in such a diverse range of circles.

One could argue Supreme paved the way for brands like Palace. Perhaps the impossible triangle couldn't exist without the box logo. But that's mostly an irrelevant argument, as Palace has carved its niche in the cool-consuming culture at large not by following a formula, but by simply doing what it wants. Supreme cast Kermit the Frog and Kate Moss to deliver an explicit message: We're the cool kids. Meanwhile, Palace is voluntarily donned by the likes of A$AP Rocky, Drake, Rihanna, and Virgil Abloh because it is cool—no subversive marketing required. "We don't send anything to anyone, except our riders really," says Tanju. "I like hooking up people that skate, and my friends. Not pop stars, stylists, etc."

Yet even as the brand continues to gain notoriety and acclaim both IRL and online, Palace is, when you step outside the absurdly nerdy bubble we all currently reside in, still relatively unknown. And its product is still at times frustratingly difficult to obtain. This, of course only adds to the allure. Though a few influential international online shops (End, Norse Store, Svpply, Couverture & The Garbstore) have signed on as stockists, Palace's own webshop is rarely operational, and their in-store takeovers—like the "Pop Off" shop at Slam Jam during Milan Design Week—are always temporary.

When we asked Tanju why he doesn't just open the floodgates with a well stocked online store and rake in the cash, he seemed perfectly disinterested in catering to the crowds. "There's way more important things I wanna take care of first—a video and team stuff etc. People are too focused on all this web this, web that. Maybe I will miss the boat, but the video will be banging and that's more important to me," says Tanju with the perfect nonchalance that reminds you that the man driving the influential ship is in fact a 30 year old skate rat.

As Palace matures, we'll likely only see more confidently curious collaborations and a continuation of the bold moves that've already helped push it across traditional skate brand boundaries. But Tanju is more focused on the moment. "It took a while to get all the boys on board, but now I'm on a hype because skate trips are like holidays and there's no weirdos or dick heads to deal with," he says. Bless the rise of the independent brand.

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