The street of choice for the skaters of London's Palace Skateboards isn't a proper street at all, but the Southbank Undercroft, below Queen Elizabeth Hall along the western edge of the Thames. Security is minimal, and it is covered, so you can skate even in the rain—no small consideration in this notoriously damp part of the world. For the members of the Palace Skateboards team—guys like Blondey McCoy, the 16-year-old phenom, and Lucien Clarke, the pro rider who is dominating the English scene—skating is not just a fair-weather activity. It is what they do. It's almost all they do.
Lev Tanju, the founder of Palace and principal designer of the collection of clothing that's sprouted up around it, dedicates himself to fostering that single-minded pursuit. The clothing exists to support the skating. "It helps us do what we want to do," he says. "At the heart of us, we are a skate brand. I probably spend more time doing skate graphics than anything else. We're not a skate company—we're a family, really. We're all brothers, pretty much."
Material wealth seems to register fairly low on the importance scale for the family—the name "Palace" derives, ironically, from the less than palatial skate houses they've crashed in over the years, like the current one Tanju calls home in Waterloo—but style is paramount. And Tanju is an all-media operator for evangelizing just that. He runs the Palace blog, shoots Palace's skate videos on vintage VHS tape (the better to approximate the look and texture of the skate videos he grew up buying), and designs the graphics, with input from the artists Fergadelic, Will Bankhead, and Ben Drury.
The Palace aesthetic is a homegrown London phenomenon. It owes more to English football casuals than the American West Coast style on which the skatewear industry is built. "I'd always ride American skateboards," Tanju says. "I thought, Why don't I like anything British? I'm really into English clothing and weird things that happen in England, like terrace football culture. I wanted to make stuff like that, that'd look English. We wanted to do football shirts with Umbro, and we wanted to work with Reebok—what I wore as a kid." (Palace has collaborated with both.) The team represents the city's multiethnic and multicultural mix—Blondey is half Lebanese, Lucien is Jamaican—but they all call London home. Tanju proudly notes that he was born ten minutes away from Big Ben.
"We're not a skate company—we're a family, really. We're all brothers, pretty much," says Tanju.
Now interest in the label is blossoming worldwide. The Palace gear is carried at Supreme in New York and Los Angeles, and fashion magazines have been knocking. Like many subcultures that begin at street level, Palace is having to negotiate its relationship to the wider world. "I like that people who don't skate wear it, and it crosses over," Tanju says. "Not everybody can skate, but everybody wears T-shirts."
As for the Palace team—the roster includes Clarke and McCoy, Gabriel Pluckrose (better known as Nugget) and Charlie Young, Torey Goodall and Benny Fairfax, amateurs and pros, all managed by Tanju—the inner circle is harder to infiltrate. "We don't look for anyone, ever," Tanju says. "They find us." (Torey joined the crew when they all met, drunk, in New York one night and someone suggested he move to London. He did.) On the occasion of this portfolio, Eliza Cummings, the tomboyishly gorgeous English model, jumped into the mix. No objections were heard. As of press time, she did not have the PWBC (that's "Palace Wayward Boys Choir") tattoo that's an initiation rite among the crew. Yet.