In Conversation With Palace’s Lev Tanju

As the streetwear giant releases its ‘Need for Speed Unbound’ collaboration, Hypebeast speaks to the Tri-Ferg tycoon to find out why he’s taken a step into the gaming world.

Gaming 
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Need for Speed is a right of passage, an open world of automotive hedonism and customizable freedom that allows players – like many of us at Hypebeast – to experience that much-needed sense of escapism. 

Aside from being deeply immersive, Need for Speed also prides itself on nostalgia-driven moments (who else remembers the Most Wanted BMW M3 GTR E46 or Underground’s Mitsubishi Eclipse?) 

It is this that steers Palace’s latest collaboration. Sentimentality runs through the London-based brand’s roots, often picking up on niche components of culture and cornerstones of society alike – and Need for Speed is one of the latter.

Palace’s founder, Lev Tanju, has fond memories of playing video games. “I grew up on Mario and sh*t like that,” he proudly proclaimed in his interview with Hypebeast. And while his connection to the game came later in life, it’s the IRL components that inspire Tanju’s creations in the game. 

From his dad’s Volkswagen Golf GTI to his penchant for boxy cars, Tanju’s love for automobiles is undeniably influential toward his line of work. Such cars often feature in Palace lookbooks and prints, and now they appear in Need for Speed Unbound alongside collaborations with A$AP Rocky, Balmain, and Versace

As we found our at the Need For Speed Unbound “London Takeover” event, the video game is quintessentially NFS – vivid arcade graphics meet hyper-realistic landscapes and highly-tunable cars, characters are the digital embodiment of oneself, and challenges are as outlandish as expected. Couple that with Palace’s knack for not taking itself too seriously, and you’ve got a collaboration that just makes sense. 

In an exclusive interview, Hypebeast speaks to Lev Tanju to find out why Palace has taken a step into the gaming world, all while keeping its tongue-in-cheek, laid-back ethos at the heart of what it does.

Hypebeast: Prior to the collaboration, what relationship did you have with Need for Speed?

Lev Tanju: I’ve been on different skate trips with the boys and we play games, that’s kind of it really. I got into Need for Speed later – because I’m quite old.

Palace’s audience is of the generation that did play Need for Speed – do you think this is going to be a good touchpoint for them?

Yeah I think so. Cars for me are cool – we made those Mercedes’ and they’re inaccessible and super expensive; one was a race car, the G-Wagon was a one-off, so it’s super exciting to design something and then let people use what you’ve designed in a whole different world. 

The choice of cars is incredibly eclectic and iconic. Is there any reason why you selected these four?

The Golf and the M3 are in our brand DNA – we’ve used them in the Ralph Lauren collaboration, we’ve used them in an all-over print, corduroy two-pieces, or T-shirts with a GTI print on them.

My dad had a GTI when I was growing up. A red one. There must be something in the back of my brain that keeps me coming back to that. 

But they’re perfect English boy racer cars, they’re a part of the English culture. It’s the obvious thing to do because, for me, they scream Palace the most. 

They’re zeitgeists of their time. 

Right. We’re a nostalgic company; the way we do our skate videos look back in time a lot. It’s stuff that’s important to me and us and that’s what makes brands genuine, when you do what you want to and what you like. 

“Two weeks later I’m on a Zoom with the ‘EA Sports: It’s In The Game’ guy, talking to him to get him to say Palace things.”

These cars are design classics. I like square cars. I like really boxy cars. It’s something I think is cool as well as [representing] the image of youth culture. 

How do these cars represent the culture? 

Loud f*cking drum ‘n’ bass music or driving around listening to happy hardcore. The GTI was the banging accessible whip, I mean you had to be rich to get it but you could. They drive good too. It’s just an obvious part of English culture and lots of other places too, maybe not America though. It relates to us, we’re a London brand and that was a car of our childhood. 

It never gets old looking at that car. We love to go back to it, and to bring it into real life to play is a really cool opportunity. 

“It never gets old” is a great way to describe Need for Speed. What does it feel like to be a part of something so iconic? 

It’s amazing man. I’m so lucky to be able to work with them. It’s always nice to work with people who don’t have a plan before they ask what you want to do. We asked if we could get the EA Sports man to say some sh*t and they got the actual guy; two weeks later I’m on a Zoom with the [immitates] “EA Sports: It’s In The Game” guy, talking to him to get him to say Palace things. I like doing things that are around forever – people can go play that game whenever and that’s a milestone for us to be able to give our energy to that world that we’ve not touched into before. 

How did you translate the ethos of Palace into the digital world of Need for Speed?

We’re such a visual brand, down to our graphics and how we promote ourselves. We’re fun and happy, we’re not too cool for school and we like to do stuff that makes people laugh. I guess we’re quite a humorous brand. 

It’s fun to do weird things: when the car skids pound signs come out the wheels. We wanted to do funny stuff, stupid ideas you have with your mate when you’re sat on the sofa, but being able to put that into reality. 

We just ran with it. We did the four cars that are important to us and it was all kind of natural. It wasn’t super serious; all the car applications were fun and we’re hyped that people can customize their own sh*t and try the clothes out. 

The [EA] guys were so good at making our stuff happen. 

How did it feel, creatively, to design your first digital-only clothing collection?

Fun. It’s wicked to see these things come to life in a computer game. I really like working with brands that know what they’re doing and are the best at what they do, which makes it fun and easy. 

Has Palace learned anything from the gaming world?

It’s a starting point that we’re stoked on. When we had conversions it felt like the perfect time to do it. We don’t circle things off and say “we’ve got to do this now,” it’s more about stuff [associated with us]. People in the office are skaters and they are gamers. We wanted to make it feel right and it’s good to do things when you like what the other partner’s doing. 

What do you hope this will bring to Palace’s audience? 

It’s an opportunity for us to show a whole different audience what Palace is about. Someone in the middle of nowhere driving a branded GTI is quite funny to me. Maybe they will check out the brand and realize that there are things from London that are interesting, and that there are different ways to approach a computer game and cars – it doesn’t have to be a Lamborghini or whatever, you can mess about with the concepts of what cars in a game should be. I hope it just introduces Palace to new people and then they check out our lineage.  

“We’re London and we love the streets and cars. It’s deeper than a T-shirt with a graphic on it.”

It’s cool because these cars actually existed, stickered up and painted like that. That G-Wagon was hand sprayed and it’s the only one in the world; I’m so happy for that to live in the world forever and not just belong to one person and no one ever sees it. Maybe they will check out that collaboration. 

As fun as Palace is, this is a serious thing. It educates. 

There is a reason why we do all these things. It’s a computer game but there is depth to what we do and why we picked those cars. It’s exciting for me to think a kid might think “why the f*ck have they done the GTI?” but, they can figure it out for themselves and look into the reasons why we use that car. Why we’re bringing back these mental cars, the oldest sh*t. 

It gives them the opportunity to dig deeper into what Palace is about. We’re London and we love the streets and cars. It’s deeper than a T-shirt with a graphic on it.

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