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Lev Tanju Palace 2010s
Illustration by Callum Abbott

Lev Tanju opens up about Palace’s past and streetwear’s future

Behind the brand that left an indelible, Penrose-triangle-shaped mark on 2010s fashion

Deep fakes, influencers, viral fashion – we live in a world unrecognisable from the one we stood in ten years ago. As a chaotic decade comes to a close, we're speaking to the people who helped shape the last ten years and analysing the cultural shifts that have defined them. Explore the decade on our interactive timeline here, or head here to check out all our features.

The mark of a great designer, brand, or fashion house is that it changes the way people dress. Christian Dior’s New Look, for example, revolutionised women’s silhouettes, eschewing the frumpy post-war fashion of the 1940s in favour of full skirts, tight waists, and soft shoulders. Lev Tanju is no couturier (and would probably laugh at the comparison) but his brand Palace Skateboards has certainly changed the way men dress this decade, not just in the UK but around the globe, too.

Palace started out as a simple t-shirt line, gently mocking fashion with tongue-in-cheek designs which riffed on the logos of fashion houses like Chanel and Versace (its first ever mail out – republished here for the first time – features the ‘Versafe’, a bootleg of the famous Medusa logo). And yet, the brand was one that came to define how men dressed in the 2010s, securing its reputation as the decade of streetwear. From teens posting legit checks in sprawling Facebook communities like the Basement, all the way to the runways of Milan and Paris (with varying levels of authenticity), we couldn’t get enough of streetwear.

At the forefront of this shift (while maintaining a healthy, unbothered distance), Tanju and his crew made skateboarding – and the clothes associated with it – cool again. Thanks to Palace’s tri-ferg logo, imagined by the great graphic designer Fergus Purcell, there’s an indelible, Penrose-triangle-shaped mark on 2010s fashion. And while Palace was born from a very London-specific skate scene, the brand has attracted a fanbase around the world; one that includes fashion girls and fuckboys, home-counties hypebeasts and Hollywood stars (Jonah Hill has appeared in ads), as well as everyday people on the street.

As further markers of the brand’s phenomenal success, it has opened stores in London, New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo; collaborated with Umbro, Reebok, adidas, Dover Street Market, Ralph Lauren (becoming the American brand’s first-ever collaborator in its 50-year history), among others, and even designed a Wimbledon uniform and Juventus kit. It’s partnered with iconic photographers Juergen Teller and Alasdair McLellan – putting on an ICA exhibition and publishing an IDEA book with the latter. And it’s done all this while maintaining its sense of humour.

2019 marks not only the end of the decade, but the tenth birthday of Palace – here, Tanju discusses the brand’s success, streetwear’s future, and that time North West stepped out in a custom Palace tee.

Did you ever expect Palace to take off in the way that it did?

Lev Tanju: I wanted it to and there was always a goal: I wanted to do something big and promote English and London skateboarding. I never imagined it would be so successful, but in the back of my mind, this didn’t just happen – we worked hard.

Was there a moment where you were like, ‘this is really blowing up’?

Lev Tanju: For me, even just at the start, the t-shirts selling out really quickly and people being really into the triangle t-shirts and Alasdair (McLellan) shooting one for Vogue magazine. I was like ‘Wow, I can’t believe this, skaters are wearing this, one of my favourite photographers is shooting it, and it’s in Vogue’, do you know what I mean?

Why do you think it connected with so many people?

Lev Tanju: ‘Cos it has a personality and it’s English and it’s not really like anything else. It’s honest and it’s real, and I feel like people connect with things that are like that. It’s not necessarily made just to buy stuff, it’s more of a scene and a way of life. It’s connected to skateboarding and so many other things and it’s a whole group of guys – most companies are run by guys in suits who are trying to make money, whereas Palace is run by guys in tracksuits who are trying to make money. (Laughs)

How does it connect to ‘Englishness’?

Lev Tanju: It’s called Palace, that’s pretty English isn’t it, in a weird way. There wasn’t really people using techno and house and all these things which are incorporated into England and English culture at the start of things. We were working with Reebok, we were working with Umbro, everyone else was super looking at America and the way that they dressed, but I wanted (Palace) to look English and feel English, and I think that’s what connected it – English music and only filming in London when we were making skate videos, it really helped, you know. I like companies when you know where they’re from, like if they’re super Italian, or really French, or really English. When it gets mixed up I don’t really like it, so I wanted Palace to be like ‘this is a really English company’.

“I think we helped definitely push sportswear onto people and make people realise it’s more wearable, and make people realise you can wear tracksuit pants with loafers or whatever. I guess, Shining a light on skating again, and getting people into it  – Lev Tanju

How do you feel when you see people wearing your clothes on the street?

Lev Tanju: Really happy. Especially if they look good in it. It’s nice, man, it’s a good feeling, seeing people wearing it. I like that a lot. It’s exciting, seeing all different types of people wearing it; it’s infiltrated what people wear. It’s a normal thing to wear really, it’s not like ‘oh I’m wearing this’. I like it that people wearing it just knocking about, or on a Sunday going to the shop or whatever.

Do you have a sense for how Palace has transformed streetwear during this era? Do you mind that term?

Lev Tanju: I don’t mind it. At first it made me cringe but now I’m like ‘fuck it’, that’s what we do. I think we’ve elevated it and pushed it forward. When we were making stupid Chanel t-shirts ten years ago–

–I loved them!

Lev Tanju: –me too, man. And Versace, all them things and tracksuit pants and all that stuff, I think we helped definitely push sportswear onto people and make people realise it’s more wearable, and make people realise you can wear tracksuit pants with loafers or whatever. I guess, Shining a light on skating again, and getting people into it. When I was growing up, skating was the worst thing you could ever do. So I think we helped push skateboarding out and get people excited about it – because it is an amazing thing and it’s brought all of us together. 

So ten years in, what’s changed and what hasn’t?

Lev Tanju: At the start, we had a lot of people working for us on the cheap and doing favours, you know what I mean, and now we can pay our friends to do everything. A lot of people weren’t getting paid at the start – I definitely wasn’t – so it’s nice to be able to grow with the same people, no one really leaving the business. It’s just busier. I can’t not go to work, I can’t get hammered and expect to do something the next day. It’s more like an actual job. But it’s way more fun because we get to do more things – like, we get to go filming wherever we want in the world, or when we’re like ‘we want to go on a skate trip’, we’ll go to Hawaii, you know. So I guess it’s just got bigger and it’s more work. But to be honest with you, it’s more fun now than when it was in the start.

What do you think people would be surprised to know about Palace?

Lev Tanju: The guys that started the company, we’ve all known each other for 20 years you know. We were all best friends before we started this and now we all work together. So that’s quite a weird thing, like there’s no outsiders involved. It’s all best friends and we’ve all been working together for ten years, from the skaters to the designers to my business partner. Most of us didn’t go to university – that’s another interesting thing. (Laughs)

What’s the future of Palace?

Lev Tanju: We want to do more exciting things, like working with adidas on Wimbledon, and making new skate videos. There’s just going to be more of the same, but better, and more exciting weird things that people wouldn’t expect us to do, hopefully.

It must have been five years ago, but do you remember when North West wore one of your tops? Did they buy that or was it altered?

Lev Tanju: (Laughs) Yeah that was cool man. I think they got it from a shop and got a tailor to cut it into a mini t-shirt because we don’t make kids stuff. 

Who’s the favourite person you’ve seen wearing Palace?

Lev Tanju: Madonna, she’s a legend. I was a bit like ‘woah that’s cool’. And then, Prince Charles actually as well.

What?! He’s worn it?

Lev Tanju: Nah I’m joking. (Laughs) I’m starting to make them up now, just to see if people believe it. Yeah, Madonna’s my favourite one weirdly, I don’t know why. She’s just such an icon.

I wanted to ask you about the product descriptions – obviously, they’re iconic now. How do you guys come up with them? 

Lev Tanju: I do all of them, man! It’s a fucking nightmare. I was doing them for the Instagram and one of my mates who works in the office was like, ‘You should do them for the products’, when we were making like, a hundred products. And I was like, ‘Yeah cool, wicked’. Now it’s literally thousands of them because every pair of socks, every pack of stickers, has a different fucking – I do all of them. And yeah, it’s quite annoying and sometimes they’re a bit shit but sometimes they’re funny. I’ve done every single one of them from the start.

I think that must have contributed to Palace’s success, in terms of connecting with your audience and giving it a voice. And shows it’s not just men in suits selling you stuff.

Lev Tanju: Yeah I think so. Some of them are (about) life things, not even problems but funny things that are happening inside Palace. If you read into them there’s clues about what’s happening, like if I’m working on a collaboration or something, then I’ll nod to that in the captions, so there’s little hidden things. A lot of them are bad like ‘100 per cent socks’ or something stupid like that, but a lot of them are quite interesting things about what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s fun but I have to do so many. Every single week I have to do shitloads.

“Just that you have to spend as much time with your friends as you can and be happy that you’re alright and you’re healthy. Because life’s quick and sometimes it gets sad. So it’s nice to just be nice – that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt” – Lev Tanju

What do you think will happen to the idea of streetwear in the 2020s?

Lev Tanju: I don’t know. When people are wearing tracksuits and hoodies and shit like that, that will get skimmed off and those brands with no ideas, who just make the same shit and don’t stand for nothing. They won’t stick around I don’t think. The trends will change, it won’t always be about sportswear and stuff like that. I just think the good brands that are making good stuff, they’re at the forefront of what men are wearing anyway, so their whole thing will change because they’ll be like ‘This is what we’re into now’ so we’re going to make something else. So a lot of brands will continue setting the trends of what’s going on, and fashion houses copying them and needing them to survive. All these high fashion houses collaborating with young brands, I think that will still happen. There will be a shift in what people are wearing but I think there’s still legs in it. But it’s always cool to wear a cool t-shirt and there’s always a place for people that want to wear it.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt over the last decade?

Lev Tanju: Probably just that life’s short and you have to look after your friends and make sure everyone’s happy.Just that you have to spend as much time with your friends as you can and be happy that you’re alright and you’re healthy. Because life’s quick and sometimes it gets sad. So it’s nice to just be nice– that’s the biggest thing I’ve learnt. Just be happy, we’re so lucky to be in good positions, healthy and eating – don’t take anything for granted, really. And be nice to people as well, that’s the main thing. Just say your thank yous – that’s got me far.