Interview: Palace Skateboards' Lev Tanju on His adidas Originals Collaboration, the London Skate Scene, and Getting Attacked for Skating

Lev Tanju talks about everything from Palace Skateboards x adidas Originals to why girls love skaters.

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Complex Original

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Over the weekend, the highly-coveted Palace Skateboards x adidas Originals collaboration released worldwide, with fans eagerly snatching up the tracksuit-heavy "teamwear" that blended the athletic roots of adidas with the vision of Lev Tanju, Palace's founder. As a lifelong skate rat himself, the collection doesn't stray far from what Lev and his fellow skaters prefer to wear while ripping it up. In fact, like all things Palace does, the collection was designed entirely with Tanju's crew in mind. Loaded with '90s staples, athletically-driven materials and construction techniques, as wel as dope graphic branding, this was definitely a collaboration that snuck up on all of us to become one of the best partnerships of the year. Before the launch of the NYC-based "Pop Off" shop and the release of the collection, we sat down with Lev to discuss the collaboration, high-fashion's current obsession with skating, and that time he got a bottle thrown at him just because he was holding a skateboard.

Tell me how this collaboration came about because it’s not your first time working with adidas right?

Well, it kinda is. I worked with adidas in England, but this is the first time we’ve ever worked with adidas Originals. The other collaboration was in skateboarding, so this is more of a different thing because its Originals and more clothing-based.

Was that the Copa collection?

Yeah. They gave Benny [Fairfax] the opportunity to have one with Mark Gonzales and a few other guys. That was just one little shirt though; that was kind of different cause it was a lot simpler you know.

You’ve worked with a bunch of sportswear companies before: Umbro, Reebok, adidas. What is it about these sportswear companies that draw you?

I’ve just always worn sportswear and I’ve always loved it since growing up in school and always skating and stuff as well.

You grew up playing sports and obviously sports have always influenced men’s style in England.

Yeah, big time. It’s not so jock-y in England: everyone just wears it. I always wanted to work with sports companies but I just got interested when adidas asked us 'cause I was like, well, I don’t really need to do anything with anyone else, cause these are the biggest people in England for us, my favorite. So it really made me happy.

"People are going to want to have a piece of everything when it’s cool, and then when it’s not cool then you see who the people who actually still have love for it."

You do have interests outside of skating and sports. You’ve collaborated with galleries and stuff. Did any outside interests influence or inform this collection?

Yeah, I guess the whole football casuals things and the English heritage of what people wear to football stadiums. That naturally influences a lot of things in England. It’s mainly just a line of teamwear, that’s what I really wanted to base it on—something that the whole team could wear. From different things, like what the manager would wear, the warm-up outfits and then the tops that you play in that are made out of performance materials. I wanted to do something interesting but keep in line with adidas’ DNA and what they do. I don’t want to go to adidas and try to make leather jackets and jeans, you know? That’s not what I like about them. I like the stuff that they’ve been doing for years and those things that they’re really good at doing so I just wanted to work on that side of things.

adidas will always have a hand in sports and skateboarding but every few years high-fashion brands will seem to develop a fascination with skating and try to dip their toes in it. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t really care. I’m up for it if those guys want to do it; that’s cool. Things in culture always become relevant and people want to get involved in them, you know? But I don’t understand why people do it, like have skateboards going down the catwalk. I guess it’s because their looks are inspired by street culture and all things like that. I think it’s kind of interesting though, because it just means a whole other group of people buy into it because they think, “Oh skating is cool because people are doing $1,000 decks.” I don’t really think about it too much. People are going to want to have a piece of everything when it’s cool, and then when it’s not cool then you see who the people who actually still have love for it.

Is that you speaking as a designer or a skate rat or both?

Skate rat, I guess. Design-wise, I just don’t see the point in making something that expensive. I do see rubbish designers using boards on the catwalk and their photoshoots, and as a designer I don’t see what the correlation is between what they’re doing and why they need it in there. I think it’s because they want people to know that they’re referencing street culture, but if the clothing were good enough you’d be able to see that anyways. All I’ve done is made a few tracksuits and some shirts I wanted to wear, so I can’t comment on other designers. I think that it’s always going to happen. Skating does drop off and become not cool and then it becomes cool again.

Well yeah and then they move on to the next thing whether it’s basketball or hip-hop…

Exactly. I guess at the moment skating is the hottest thing going, isn't it? But everyone that skates and loves it has always known that, that’s why we’re always going to do this type of stuff. But there are a lot of sportswear crossovers in fashion. Everyone is making jogging bottoms all of a sudden. I’ve seen crazy prices, like £500 joggers you know, and I don't understand that. They should just be something you wear to just knock about it and the older they get the better. It’s nice for us for people to be using stuff that we’ve influenced, like skateboarders. At the end of the day, it’s good for us because it just means we can support our skaters more because the industry is getting behind us and they think we are good and cool in what we’re doing. Even if they didn’t we would still be doing it, so I guess we’re just in a lucky position at the minute.

"No one skated in London to be cool; you just got laughed at or bottles thrown at you."

Palace grew out of a very specific love of skating. It was just you and your friends, when you were the Palace Wayward Boys Choir. How do you balance the growth of Palace while maintaining those core principles and ideals?

It’s just the way I’m always going to be. I’ve lived my life being looked after by skaters and skaters looking after me. That’s something I’ll never lose. The fact that we have our family involved in working with us, down to the skaters and down to the people I design with—people like Nugget [Gabriel Pluckrose]; we flew him out here to DJ cause he DJs at nights that we do back home as well. It’s just a whole family thing. As long as you don’t forget your friends, which we won’t because we always stick together; we’re the most important thing. Without that we wouldn’t be core anymore. The main thing is looking after the skate team; as long as they’re happy then I’m happy. Whatever else comes around, like if these collaborations do well and stuff like that…it makes me happy.

When you sit down to design are you approaching it from you being a skater?

I’m not too sure how I approach it. I’m selfish; I just make what I want to make for myself, and what the team would want to make. So if we see something we really like, we'll make it for us. We use old shapes; I have things in my closet that I’ve copied the panels out of. Basically we’re just doing stuff that we want for ourselves, and it makes me happy when we go on a skate trip and guys are head to toe wearing it cause they love it so much. They’re getting thrown clothes from every angle but they want to wear this, so it makes me happy.

You touch on the notion of being a team, a squad on the field, with a uniform look.

Yeah I like that.

Is that something you are striving for? Does that unify you guys?

I just think it's kind of cool if you all go on a skate trip and everyone’s got their own special jackets or their joggers and it’s all personalized stuff. It’s just kind of cool. I’ve always been a fan of teamwear and what people turn up it. This is a bad example but you know like in Dodgeball when the evil team comes out and they've got the best uniform and everyone else has mixed shirts. I like that look.

This is another terrible example but I went to a bachelor party and we all wore the same T-shirts with a funny photo of the bachelor on the front. You feel like a squad.

Yeah, you just feel like it’s a team isn’t it? And we are a team; we all skate for the same team. The mad thing is that we are more of a team than other people are because we are actually all best friends and always been skating together. I think it’s kind of nice to have an emphasis on the team and everyone be able to wear their tracksuits.

Palace started five years ago. Have you been able to wrap your mind around the fact that you’re now globally launching a collection with adidas with around 20 pieces? Have you wrapped your mind around it or are you still just riding the wave?

Riding the wave. I don’t even think about. I just take every day a step at a time. If I start thinking about everything too much, if I made a mistake or anything went wrong I’d be pissed. I just work hard and support the team. Like getting flown out to New York and getting to have a party—I’m taking it all in stride because it’s not really a job. I’m just pushing London skateboarding and our skate company, and if that means we get to work with my favorite sportswear company of all time and they let us do whatever we want—it’s a nice feeling. It’s more than me; it’s everything around it. It’s the team and the whole PWBC and we flew one of us out to DJ the parties, and we’re going to play nice music that we want to listen to, that we’d play in London clubs. It’s exciting, but I think the guys on the skate team have helped push the brand and they deserve to have their own tracksuits to wear.

"All chicks love skaters. They didn’t love skaters when I was young."

What differentiates the London skate scene? Is it the way people ride, how people ride, how they dress, what they do? How would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know?

It’s weird because it’s quite similar to New York, a very similar scene. Everyone skates everywhere and there are no cars. People look out for each other a lot more there than I’ve seen anywhere else. Its less cliquey and more like, just everyone loves everyone. It’s a very happy scene.

Small scene?

It used to be when I was skating a lot but now it’s getting big. I see kids all the time I’ve never seen before skating. I live right by South Bank so every day when I go and get the paper and a coffee, I see 15 kids I’ve never seen before on a skateboard going to South Bank.

In New York there’s so much money being poured into the city and so much development and I feel like the skate scene has kind of suffered for that. Is the same true of London, which is, you know, the finance capital of Western Europe?

Skating’s blown up in London, definitely, because it’s been so many years since it was not a cool thing to do. Now fucking rappers are doing it everybody wants to do it. People watch it and they say…it’s just getting bigger, isn’t it? It's a cool thing to do now. It wasn’t cool when I started skating. No one skated in London to be cool; you just got laughed at or bottles thrown at you.

Really? Who was throwing the bottles?

Guys outside pubs and stuff. If you got on the train at like 11 o’clock, or walked through Croydon— I got a bottle smashed on my back when I was like 17. The guy was like, “What you doing, you idiot?” It’s not a normal thing to do there. Just kids, like my age probably out drinking or partying and they see a skateboarder, and no one really got it. Then it became a more of a prominent thing, and what kids would do, and they started building skate parks. Before it was kind of an outcast thing to do, whereas New York it’s always been the coolest shit ever, you know? All chicks love skaters. They didn’t love skaters when I was young.

Now they do?

Now they do, yeah. [Laughs]

Is that a good reason to start skating in London?

Definitely! [Laughs]

Did you enjoy doing this? Would you want to do it again?

Yeah, totally. I’ve loved doing it; it’s been amazing. There’s a lot more things we’ve got up our sleeves; this it just the start. I really want to do more things and keep people guessing and make other exciting things.     

Palace is such a small-scale operation. What was the transition like scaling up to a coordinated global launch? Still sleeping 8 hours a night?

Yeah man, I’m lazy. I sleep loads. I get a lot of work done but I sleep a lot. I sleep ‘til like 12 and then work until five in the morning some days. I’ve got some good friends that help me, a good team—a tight, small team of people who help me do stuff. We decided we were going to launch in New York not very long ago—like less than a month ago—so we just did this all in a month. I’m good if there’s one thing at a time to do but I’m not if I’ve got loads of things; it gets really hard. It seems like it’s running smooth. I just want everyone to have a good time and get some people in Palace tomorrow. I hope people buy it and they love it.

Honestly, we were estimating everything will sell out by noon.

I hope so. That would be great and then I don’t have to work on Sunday.

And then you can go back to sleep!

Exactly! [Laughs]

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