Biking through SoHo a few weekends ago, it was hard to avoid signs of a lingering sense of unease. Most of the stores in the area looked open but empty, a bleak reminder of the havoc the coronavirus has wreaked on the retail industry and an indication of how little the cratering economy has yet to recover despite the President and his cronies' feeble protestations otherwise.
Not so on Howard Street, a small stretch of the city long famous for its high concentration of hype-inducing wares and the stores that sell them. As I hopped off the bike to check Google Maps a middle-aged couple gawked at a gaggle of teens waiting behind each other in a more or less socially-distanced configuration, forming a line that stretched all the way down the block. "What on earth is that?" one asked the other. It's Palace, I thought to myself involuntarily, without looking up from my phone. What else would it be?
Since landing stateside in 2017, Palace has tapped into something special in the stylish consumer's psyche. It is, first and foremost, a skate brand—one that still does the staples you'd associate with the parlance of contemporary streetwear better than almost anyone else. But in recent years, the brand has inserted itself into the broader sports narrative, lending its penchant for '90s-inspired silhouettes and zany graphics to an ongoing partnership with Adidas. Last year the label designed a set of soccer kits for Juventus, the Italian football club, and the year before that it debuted a collection of crisp tennis whites in conjunction with the start of Wimbledon.
Most impressive, perhaps, is that the brand has managed to do it all without diluting its signature irreverent wit. (On Palace's webstore, the product descriptions, on any other site a soupy mishmash of meaningless buzzwords, read instead like wonderfully bizarre haikus that have little to do with the product they're ostensibly describing.) It's that wicked sense of humor that makes Palace the perfect antidote to fashion's sometimes heavy-handed self-seriousness.
The brand's cheeky, often acerbic tone represents a breath of fresh air in an industry awash in overly earnest brands trumpeting their commitment to this cause or that with a zealousness that certainly makes it seem like they're compensating for something. (That's not to say Palace doesn't step up when necessary—this past month, the label dropped a range of tees to help benefit the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, an organization based in the UK that works with young people from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds to make sure they get their fair shot.)
Now the upstart London label is turning its keen eye towards biking—wow, your newest favorite sport!—via an upcoming collaboration with Rapha, the legendary British cycling brand. And, as per usual, Palace nailed the timing. Demand for bikes and their accouterments has surged recently, catalyzing a national shortage as manufacturers scramble to keep up with the clamor for forms of plein air transportation from otherwise homebound customers. (I snagged mine a few months ago from a bike shop near my apartment. It was, the slightly harried-looking attendant assured me, the last in my size and one of the few the store had left.)
The two brands are teaming up on a capsule collection of good-looking, endearingly kooky cycling gear for serious bikers and aspiring serious bikers alike. In true form, the duo are also outfitting the EF Pro Cycling team at this year’s Giro d’Italia, a grueling three-week race that kicked off at the beginning of the month, but the collection in its entirety will be available to the masses starting later this week.
Needless to say, Palace freaked it. The brand completely overhauled the entire fleet's racing gear—including everything from the team's bikes to the team's bibs—using the type of colorful, tongue-in-cheek iconography with which diehard fans of the skate label will be more than familiar. And make no mistake about it, there's some very serious racing gear to be had here. But the two brands are also shilling delightfully unhinged oxford-cloth button-downs and a few positively psychedelic long-sleeve tees, plus a whole host of gear so handsome it's begging to be worn off the bike.
The collections reads less like something a few corporate honchos cooked up in a board room and more like the result of a partnership with a brand, as Rapha describes it, wholly "untrained" in the sport's traditions.
It's a formula the fashion industry should look to more often when it comes dreaming up smash-hit collaborations, instead of chasing brand synergies that sound like they'd play well in a press release but look completely lifeless hanging in a mausoleum-like store or on, y'know, an actual person. Increasingly, it's a formula Palace seems to have figured out down to a T (or, heh, a tee). For our sake, here's hoping it's also one the brand doesn't stop refining any time soon.
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