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Palace Cofounder Talks Gap Collaboration: “It’s Cool, Innit, Man?”

Photographs by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

Picture ’90s-era Gap and you’ll probably conjure visions of LL Cool J rapping or khaki-clad dancers. Palace cofounder Lev Tanju, however, remembers a completely different side of the global mall megabrand. Gap’s logo hoodies and multicolored anoraks were fixtures of the San Francisco skate scene, which produced videos that Tanju obsessed over and modeled his style after. “Gap's just iconic, and it's such a big part of me growing up and a lot of the Palace family,” Tanju said.

Today, Palace is unveiling a massive new collaboration with Gap—one that finds the UK skate brand at its fun-loving best. Much like its linkups with the iconic likes of Ralph Lauren, Juventus, and the Alpine Formula 1 team, the unlikely partnership never reads like a case of David versus Goliath. Instead, the expansive collection feels closer to David getting Goliath into skating and selling him shrooms. “We're up for right fucking around, really, and doing fun stuff,” Tanju said. Palace’s designs can “read as a bit punk or a bit disruptive or a bit against the grain, which is good. I think that's what skateboarding's always brought to everything.”

<cite class="credit">Photographs by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP</cite>
Photographs by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

In this case, Tanju was able to highlight how skating pulled Gap into its orbit. The design process borrowed from a peak dude experience: sitting around naming obscure athletes. Without needing to even pull up old images or videos, the design team were able to recall legendary skaters and the pants, oxfords, and hoodies they wore in specific videos. The Palace x Gap collection is an ode to those classic pieces.

The most hype-inducing item from the collaboration is sure to be the reworked Gap hoodie. On this version of the ’90s staple, the iconic three-letter arc across the chest now reads “PAL.” (“GAP” is on the back.) For Tanju, taking this piece from his childhood and getting to update it feels like passing the torch. He hopes to introduce a new generation of skaters to the brand he wore when he was younger.

<cite class="credit">Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP</cite>
Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

Speaking of that new generation: The Gap collection marks Palace’s first-ever foray into making clothing for kids. There are plenty of reasons for this. Skateboarding is now more popular than ever among the grade-school set, and many of Palace’s employees now have children who need clothes that don’t suck. And most importantly: “It's cool, isn't it, man?” Tanju said. “When you see a little kid dressed banging, you're like, ‘Yes, mate.’” There’s even a small stuffed version of Palace’s Jeremy the Duck mascot clutching a G.

Ahead of the collaboration’s launch on March 22 at 11 a.m. ET on Gap’s and Palace’s websites, GQ caught up with Tanju about working with the Gap, designing sick clothes for kids, and giving up on the concept of exclusivity.

GQ: Gap is a massive brand. What does it mean for you to have a collaboration of this magnitude?

Tanju: Yeah, Gap's just iconic and it's such a big part of me growing up and a lot of the Palace family. We always like to do things that we feel are really honest and things that we really are excited about. We used to look at American skateboarders who wore [Gap]—it was just so accessible and it was a good price point, so we grew up in love with it really.

It was part of the skate scene in the UK, you're saying?

I was just buying into the American look so much when I was younger. I looked up to the skaters in San Francisco and that was the reason it resonated with us. The fits were always baggier and loose, and I had so many of the anoraks that you pack away into a bag. It was just part of the dress code.

This happens so much with Americana, where other countries like Japan are able to take what the US produces and reflect it back better than Americans can. Why do you think that is?

Everything we do means something to us, but obviously most people don't know the references from being 20 in London, watching skate videos, and trying to dress like [Bay Area skater] Mike Carroll. When we were working on the lineup for the collection, me and Gareth [Skewis, Palace cofounder] sat in a room and we didn't even have images. It was just: "Remember that jacket?” “Remember these trousers?" We all grew up just skating every day, we literally watched the same videos. We'd just sit there, drop 10 names of skaters like Scott Johnson, Mike Howe, all San Francisco, Embarcadero people. We just know what it is when it comes to the Gap because it's so influential in skateboarding.

It's so funny to hear Gap spoken about through that lens. Most people associate Gap in the ’90s with its famous commercials—the khaki swing. Do you remember those?

Yeah, I remember all of them but I was looking at that stuff long after it came out. When I was younger, I was just skating, I was looking at skate magazines, and I wasn't into anything except for skating. I guess I was into clothes, but I was buying stuff from skate videos. There wasn't Instagram. I didn't have a laptop until 2008 or something.

But when I got older, I was more into the nuts and bolts of advertising. I zoomed out at that point and started looking at things differently.

<cite class="credit">Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP</cite>
Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

What are your favorite pieces from the collection?

The hoodie is just so obvious, but I love it. I grew up buying loads of these, and now we have our own one that we've designed.

Then I'd say probably the white-and-green jacket. The two-tone jackets are amazing. And then I like the camouflage oxford, because it's super plain in the front but it's got beautiful stuff going on in the back. And then the rugby's so good as well. And when we did the kids thing, I was just like, Whoa, this stuff looks so cool.

I appreciate that you guys go for the iconic pieces in these collaborations, whether it’s the Gap hoodie or Ralph Lauren Polo Bear.

That's what Palace does. We're tongue in cheek. We're fun. We do what's obvious. We're not sat there scratching our heads on how to put three arms on a Gap hoodie to make it look new and different. We just want to do understandable, nice things that mean something to us. Keeping it and passing the torch onwards really—showing the story and how much it meant to us growing up.

How did kids clothing come into this?

It's cool, innit, man? When you see a little kid dressed banging, you're like, "Yes, mate." Especially skaters as well. Also, Palace is over 10 years old. Loads of the people that work for us are about 40; they've had kids. We want to dress them up in cool stuff and be able to make them wear Palace. And it seems like a really simple thing to just make a smaller size oxford shirt for a kid, but in reality it's actually a really hard thing to make good kids clothes. People have confidence in buying Gap for kids, so that's why we wanted to partner with the best. And then not even having to think about the blocks and how that all fits. We just tell them what we want—"Here's the adult version, and we want the kids one like this"—and they can just do it so well. And it just takes a lot of pressure off.

<cite class="credit">Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP</cite>
Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

The doors have been blown open and there's so many young kids skateboarding, so it is amazing for us to offer them something other than just a small T-shirt.

Sporty Spice is in the commercial for this collection. Talk to me about your connection to the Spice Girls as someone who grew up in the UK.

Just massive, innit, man? It was such a massive, monumental thing when the Spice Girls came out. And Sporty Spice always wore a tracksuit. We were just looking to cast someone English as a mom and her name came up, and we were just like, perfect. She was so nice and she looks great in the tracksuit. So it's just another fun nod to parts of our culture. But we did a Spice Girls T-shirt recently as well, and it's one of my favorite ones we've done. It just felt right.

Did you have a favorite Spice Girl growing up?

It's hard. I feel like everyone just says the one they used to fancy or something like that really. I liked all of them, to be honest. Posh Spice was iconic when she was going out with Beckham, obviously. That was massive. They were both dressed so cool all the time.

Before the pandemic, there was such a premium on this idea of scarcity and things selling out immediately and going on Grailed, StockX, whatever. Doing a collaboration with the Gap flies in the face of that idea. Does that factor into your process and how does a collaboration with Gap affect that?

I don't know, man. We've done Juventus football kits now. We're 15 years old. We've done the Wimbledon kits, sponsored an F1 team. Yeah, we do small things ourselves sometimes, but things like this is just an opportunity for us to be proud and comfortable going out with a big brand. And with kids it’s different, man. I don't want five- or six-year-old kids queuing up to buy hoodies.

The world's changed so much and there are like a million brands doing 10 T-shirts; line up now and get them and they're gone. We are always just trying to set our own path and surprise people. And sometimes we'll make [very few] of something just because, and then next minute we might work with Gap. We like messing with people's perceptions of how it is. Is it a skate brand? Is it limited? You can't work with Gap and make 10 jumpers.

The point is to get some accessibly priced stuff to people who might love Gap and want something with a twist on it. Variety is the spice of life.

<cite class="credit">Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP</cite>
Photograph by Jim Goldberg / Courtesy of Palace x GAP

Do you feel like that exclusivity has lost its luster? That, to me, is one of the reasons I feel like sneaker culture has lost the heat that it had a few years ago.

I think so, man. It's also just the amount of products out there, the amount of people doing sneakers. Everyone does one, and then all of a sudden it's not new anymore, and then people are less interested because they've got it already. And it'll never be dead, but it gets so busy [and then] it'll come around again in another cycle.

One theory, looking at your collaborations over the years, is that you guys seem to get a kick out of being a corrupting force: putting the Polo Bear on a skateboard; turning the Rapha helmet into a duck; making slime green Juventus jerseys. Am I onto anything there?

Yeah, we get called disruptive a lot. You should see some of the things we haven't been allowed to do. We're all skaters that are up for doing something we're probably not supposed to do all the time, like how skating was growing up. We love doing funny stuff or things that are like, Oh, my God, that's so bad, but it's so good. We love it. It's funny to not take yourself too seriously, really. We're not chin scratchers that wear all black and try to be really cool the whole time.

We're up for right fucking around, really, and doing fun stuff. I've always been inspired by Moschino and people that were really pushing the boundaries of what is actually garish or a good print or what's too big [in terms] of branding. So it's part of Palace's DNA, really, to make the most mental skateboards or make stupid T-shirts. It's kind of just that whole core independent skate-brand mentality, really.

So we're really just doing what we know. And that sometimes is read as a bit punk or a bit disruptive or a bit against the grain, which is good. I think that's what skateboarding has always brought to everything.

Shop a selection of the Palace and Gap collaboration below, or browse the full collection here.

Varsity Jacket

$300.00, Gap

Logo Hoodie

$129.00, Gap

Flag Tee

$54.00, Gap

Logo Tee

$48.00, Gap

Track Jacket

$130.00, Gap

Track Pant

$90.00, Gap

Oxford Shirt

$90.00, Gap

Stripe Oxford Shirt

$90.00, Gap

Windbreaker

$130.00, Gap

Board Short

$80.00, Gap

Stripe Logo Rugby

$110.00, Gap

Cargo Pant

$90.00, Gap

Flags Baseball Cap

$35.00, Gap

Logo Socks

$17.00, Gap

Originally Appeared on GQ