From small skate beginnings in south London to global success, here’s why Palace is the London label du jour.
In the music industry, there is power in a crew. From the New York’s Run DMC to London’s So Solid Crew to the moment at the London Brit awards when Kanye dominated the stage with Stormzy and other rappers on the East London music scene. The thing about a crew, is that it moves slowly and with power. Crew members may seem like a bunch of people thrown together with similar tastes and shared values, but they’re more like a family—brothers and sisters united by a common cause and belief system. This works in music, because all the elements come together, and all the range of skills complement each other.
What does all this have to do with retail and the emergence of London-based, skate-informed brand Palace? Simple: Palace is a family, and that home-grown, family dynamic has helped to catapult the brand to become a global fashion player.
“We’re not a skate company—we’re a family, really. We’re all brothers, pretty much”, says founder Lev Tanju in an interview with Vogue in 2013.
While some new brands pop up almost overnight on social media, others nurture the slow rise, a steady growth story to the top. Palace falls into the latter category, the brand is literally the definition of authentic, with its grimy London aesthetic. If you don’t know the history, the label emerged out of the Palace Wayward Boys Choir (PWBC), made up of Lev and some friends in his skate crew. The name Palace was a joke, because all the places they lived in were slightly crappy, miles away from what most people think an actual palace looks like.
They didn’t set out to redefine skateboarding, but in the same way New Yorkers added a grittier edge to the West Coast-born sport, Palace frames skate culture in a way that reclaims south London as a place where rebellious, disaffected youth can ollie their cares away and carve out a unique identity through style that speaks their language.
“From day one, Palace’s imagery has been recognisable because Brits will either recognise the type of guys in the shoots or maybe they’re just like them themselves. The imagery is perfectly suited to Palace’s clothing aesthetic: a kind of modern, poetic realism, captured on film by long-time collaborator and photographer Alasdair Mclellan. It’s a love of British culture and honest, un-prettified style that resonants with the UK skate community, who have an ingrained need for authenticity, says Nick Paget, WGSN Senior Menswear Editor
“Putting swaggering, cheeky chappy, real-life skaters such as Blondie McCoy in front of the camera, lends the brand (if it were ever needed) extra personality. By cleverly reflecting British life back at their first consumers, Palace also documents a world that increasingly interests a US audience, along with the grime scene and other uniquely UK subcultures,” adds Paget.
AUTHENTIC BRAND BUILDING
As the Palace Wayward Boys Choir went from just skaters to brand builders, they became the best testers of their product line, which started with skateboards and expanded into apparel and accessories. Since 2010, the brand has gone from strength to strength.
And its legions of followers are like family, they buy into the clothing, but also the brand ethos. So when Palace’s statement caps and hoodies sell out, it’s not just because fans want the iconic triangle symbol on the clothing it’s because those clothes help them form an identity, a camaraderie with others in the Palace family.
“Beneath the hype and around the block lines for collection drops, the history of Palace as a brand is humble, local and based on community,” says WGSN Denim editor Samuel Trotman.
“A world away from the glam, sun-kissed, easy riders of American skate culture, Palace’s aesthetic is an honest representation of British skate culture—gritty, lo-fi and funny. The story of PWBC is bigger than just a skate thing too, it’s a cultural touchstone and lifestyle that has ricocheted through worldwide skate community helped wrangle the spotlight from the US (and all the big corporate brands) and pave the way for the next generation of skateboarding,” adds Trotman.
Indeed, one of Palace’s most lauded aspects is the unique copy language that describes their products. Part self-aware boilerplate, and part short-form Internet humor, product descriptions for simple tees veer towards poetry. The voice is distinctly Lev Tanju’s, who is clearly having a laugh while infusing his own personality into the words.
“I sit in front the TV with a takeaway and type on my iPhone absolute nonsense in bullet points and people find it funny,” explains Tanju to The Guardian.
THE SECRET TO SUCCESS
Being authentic is easy at the beginning of your brand story, but how do you maintain that? Palace has collaborated with Tate Britain, hosted a photography exhibition at London ICA’s gallery and just launched a zine style Skate Magazine, plus a Reebok collaboration fronted by Hollywood superstar Jonah Hill, but these activities don’t detract from the core brand ID, and that’s why Palace is so successful.
Despite constant comparisons to New York-born cult label Supreme, Palace has built its own compelling universe that draws in people from all cultures and generations. Last year, they opened a flagship store in London on Brewer Street—just down the road from Supreme’s London store on Peter Street, which opened in 2011. Both shops are no strangers to long queues on release days.
It’s limited its stockists to just a few stores like Dover Street Market, Swedish menswear boutique Trés Bien, and Los Angeles shop UNION. The scarcity of the product contributes to its appeal.
“Palace’s slow-and-steady growth shows they’re in it for the longevity game. They could have easily sold to a lot of larger retailers and boosted their wholesale business, but instead they’re building a vertical business based mostly off of their own store and e-shop. By limiting the access to the product, they’re preserving the rare appeal that makes it so covetable”, says Jian DeLeon, NY Senior Menswear Editor.
In building a brand the old-fashioned way—relying on a close network of friends, focusing on consistent design language, high-quality products, and a strong, cohesive narrative, the PWBC may have finally found its way.
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