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‘It won’t tell you anything useful’: how Palace turned product descriptions into art

ByINVESTOR

Oct 27, 2022

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Palace, the London skate label founded in 2009, is widely known for two things: the prominent triangle logo – or “tri-ferg” – that features on their T-shirts, and their collaborations. Over the past few years they have worked with everyone from Stella Artois, Harrods and Ralph Lauren to Cîroc, Umbro and, most recently, Gucci. But, for the superfans, there’s something else – the product descriptions.

We all glance at these short texts every time we shop online. These are the words that tell us about the shape of a jumper, how a boot fastens, what shoes to wear with a midi dress. But a Palace product description is different. It won’t tell you anything useful and the text is rarely about the clothes. Instead, it’s random, stream-of-conscious thoughts, with in-jokes, comments on the news cycle, stoned humour and life advice thrown in, always in caps lock. To take one example, a product description for a long-sleeved red T-shirt reads:

Another, for blue hoodie, reads:

These are not, as they are for most brands, the job of an e-commerce writer team. They are written by Lev Tanju, Palace’s co-founder. Do most Palace fans know this? “I think they think I’m cleverer than that,” says Tanju. “There are always tweets like ‘who the fuck writes these? They are amazing.’ No one knows it’s the person that owns the company.”

Tanju’s product descriptions are soon to be common knowledge. A book, Palace Product Descriptions: The Selected Archive by Lev Tanju will be released by arty publishers Phaidon this week, collecting more than 3,000 product descriptions into a distinguished looking tome, complete with themed chapters (“news & current affairs”, “romance”, “etiquette”), an index (N for Nando’s, R for Rizla) and an introduction from academic and poet Sam Buchan-Watts. This is, of course, part of the gag. “It’s so stupid, the content, so I wanted it to have a legit publisher because it would make it funnier,” says Tanju.

A slightly laddish humour – one that puts the world to rights around a pub table with beer mats and pint swills – is central to Palace. The product descriptions have been like this since the brand began, when a friend of Tanju suggested it. But, as the brand has grown, so has Tanju’s workload. Now he will often write them all in one go before a new collection drops on the site on a Friday morning, and it is partly this pattern that prompted the book. “I was like, ‘you know what, I should put my name to [this], it’s something to be proud of,’” he says. “It’s been a lot of late Thursday nights when I could just be chilling.”

Product descriptions included in the book touch on Tanju’s immediate surroundings. “[Looking through it], I would remember the flight that I was on when I watched the film I was talking about or the cold knives and forks on the plane or whatever,” he says. “It’s quite funny.” The turmoil of the last decade, including Brexit and Covid is also covered. Would Tanju take on something like Liz Truss’s recent resignation? “Yeah, but I wouldn’t get directly into politics. I might write something about ‘oh, maybe I should resign’. I really like topical stuff so when you’re reading it you know what’s happening.”

A lot has happened since Palace launched in 2009. Tanju, an ex-skater – they are still the board sponsor for 13 pro-skaters – began the brand as a way to support and sponsor skate crews. It is now at the stage where it has the clout to collaborate with a mega-brand like Gucci, and put the double-G logo on everything from a skateboard to a football shirt covered in a strawberry print.

Tanju says the Italian brand was a revelation because it put creativity first. “It’s the opposite of how most brands work, starting with margins and price points. You can make a motorbike if you want to.” (He did – the Palace Gucci Moto Guzzi could be yours for £42,500).

Tanju says some people now go to the Palace site just to read the descriptions, without buying anything. He describes that as “cool”, partly because it shows up the absurdity of this format. “There’s all this guff that people write on websites about products no one cares about,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s a jumper, you know, so why does that information even exist?”

Does he have a favourite product description that he has written? “‘Squid yes. Octopus no.’ [for a T-shirt in 2019]. I have always put them in the same boat. Then I was in Spain one day and I was like ‘fuck man, octopus is horrible and squid is nice.’ Also, octopuses are clever.”

This article was amended on 27 October 2022. The vodka brand that partnered with Palace was Cîroc, not Absolut as an earlier version said.

Palace Product Descriptions: The Selected Archive by Lev Tanju is published by Phaidon, £34.95

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