Fergus Purcell doesn't skate. If you ask him, the London-based artist, designer and Saint Martins alum will tell you as much. But after sketching an impossible triangle for Palace founder Lev Tanju, Purcell cemented his role as a creative force in the skating and fashion worlds alike. Since 2010, London shop Palace has found the sweet spot between a dozen subcultures and several continents, inspiring fervent brand loyalists that've never touched trucks and eventually landing him a gig designing for Marc Jacobs. It's that same cultural curiosity that pulled Purcell out of a comfort zone and into Aries, designing boy clothes for girls and making it up as he and parter Sofia Prantera go along. With Palace's London flagship store well settled in and a slew of new projects in the works, Purcell spoke to FADER at length about the cultures he loves and the clothes he likes.
How has Palace grown and changed since the store opened?
I think we've had the chance to really prove that idea that, while it's a skateboard thing, it's also a legitimate fashion thing on it's own terms. It's done that from the outside, and it's quite punk. As we've grown in experience, there's now a chance to step up and make clothes that can operate on that level, and you need a shop as a platform to do that. You show people that whole experience. So you're still doing t-shirts, but you're also doing a performance jacket, and it's all an integrated experience. It's so fun to get to do that, because that's always been in the pipeline. It's always the way I've imagined things. It's this triumphant time to prove the point and give people a chance to come and have a look at it and see what it's really like. Get the right vibe.
When you can control your retail space, you control the messaging of the lifestyle that kind of surrounds the brand.
Absolutely! What's really important is the legacy of Slam City Skates. It always functioned as a shop, but it was such a legitimate hang out for so many years. Anyone could come and be a part of that, even if they were just buying a t-shirt for five minutes. We were around that scene and influenced in ideas of what that place can be. It's like your head quarters, a club house, it's a shop, it's a party zone. A cultural exchange place, all that kind of thing. And that template was definitely set by Slam City Skates.
What is one of the major differences in New York skate culture vs. UK skate culture?
It's a new thing where a UK skate brand has a bit of international impact. We had amazing, small, more or less underground brands here before, that were important in the country, or even just in London, or where they were from, like Manchester. But Palace managed to find a bigger audience when the time was right. Skateboarding is looking for a new direction. A new generation of skaters, skating in your style. They're after a new aesthetic that they're related to more. Kids in skateboarding are really savvy to the way the industry works. People got bored of the really big-brand, American, corporate scene, so there was room for something like Palace to come in under the radar. You know, shoot video on mobile phones and put it on the internet and all of that kind of thing. That was such a fresh thing. That was a consequence of it being English. At the same time, you have to know that skate culture, period, is American. Palace has a massive American influence. The outlook I do definitely has. We all grew up in that culture, really influenced by skate videos, what the skaters wore, what they listened to, all that kind of stuff. The thing about Palace is its not just like, English, English, English. It's got a cool twist about it, mixed with our love of American skate culture. Plus, just American style on pop culture in general.
Where is the skate world in relation to the larger fashion world right now?
Lev [Tanju] has always been a fashion fan. Even when he was a young adult, he was wearing Moschino. Going to skate on the South Bank. And he wasn't unique, there were a bunch of kids channeling that in their own ways. But you know, still, they're unusual, something different in skating. Lev always wanted to integrate the two things. I don't think he had Stone Island, just cause I don't think he could afford it. It was always deliberate to gate crash fashion. The really iconic things that we did at the start—I did the triangle logo, and Lev did tougher fashion rip offs, including the Versace one, which was particularly, the right image at the right time. Other people were copying other stuff, other people are even copying that. But the fusion of a skateboard brand from the UK that was saying “We love fashion,” it was like a love letter to fashion people. That's why they got involved early and it was genuine.
"It was like a love letter to fashion people."—Fergus Purcell
Tell me a bit about the logo that you created for Palace. What thought went into that iconography?
Lev told me straight away when he was thinking of doing a skate company, and I was like, "Awesome. Go for it. Can't wait to see it." And when he said, "Do you want to do a logo? It's called Palace," I was like "Fuck it, of course." He said that the initial bunch of inspiration was triangles, and so I went away and started designing triangular stuff. But since that, occasionally, he's totally forgot that he said it had to do with triangles, and gave me credit for doing that. So it's even better that he just forgot that.
He gave me the idea for a triangular motif, and then I started to think about how I could manipulate that symbolically. I chose the infinite-repeating thing as a motif for eternity. It implies that it loops around and around forever. That was a conscious thing to put that in brand and say, were not already, were infinite. When you work with graphics that imply a certain three dimensional quality, that instantly gives them an implied size, so you can print that image quite small and it still has a quality of being epic. I think that was part of it too. The best thing is that, in order to introduce any kind of word branding, I had to really put it where I put it. It had to be there three times, and I think subliminally that's quite powerful. That reenforced the name by repetition.
Does it feel subversive bringing skate sensibilities to high fashion houses?
Well I should also say, I don't claim the skating thing too much, because I was super into and super influenced by it, but I was always quite crap at skating. It was easy for me to fall out the actual activity but still be really interested in it and really influenced by it. Growing up, I was interested in all sorts of other things too. That's why I found skating, it was from a visual level. I grew up looking at comics, and then underground—well, I shouldn't say underground, but counter-cult trash videos. In the '80s, the arrival of video rental stores—and thats would be funny for you readers to think about—but that was the internet of the time. Suddenly, as suburban kids, we had access to all sorts of weird bonkers shit you could rent off the weird shelf. I consider myself a product of all that stuff.
When I was like 17 my mom bought me my first copy of iD. I just read that and it connected the nerdy stuff I'd been looking at to the young fashion scene. I was lucky as a teenager growing up in the '80s when the kind of MTV-esque visual culture was becoming really developed. I didn't have MTV, not many people did. It was a subscription thing. But that aesthetic permeated and you would look forward to the adverts coming on the tele. Jean Paul Goude did all those amazing visuals for Grace Jones, and that was super in the mainstream for everyone to see. I was really influenced by that—I never deliberately positioned myself as outside of the mainstream or a cult artist.
So can you tell me a bit about where you are with Aries right now? When we first spoke, you guys were on season two, it was very early on.
Its growing and evolving in a very organic way. It's taking a while to conceptually hone in on what it is we need to do. When we first started, we had a particular concept that was a bit unworkable. It was quite cool conceptually, but actually doing a brand, they're all sorts of things that make those ideas impractical. Just the means of production, ordering minimums all of that stuff. We've discarded that and hit the ground running. We didn't really come up with a concise approach, and that's being worked out season by season. The difference is that, after like four seasons now, maybe we've found this groove of where we need to be at, and the slightly awkward fusion between my trashy graphics and Sophie's interest in doing more artisan handmade things.
Has working in women's wear changed your aesthetic or your eye for things?
That's an interesting question. Yeah. I'm not sure if it's changed my aesthetic, but it's so fantastic to see the uptake of streetwear, or male modes of dressing, by women in the last few years. I've always loved that tomboy look, and it's really cool to see girls doing it. In a way, and maybe why the timing is right for me to do something like Marc by Marc Jacobs, is that they use that interest in a tomboyish approach and the fusion of a masculine sensibility and how women are redefining how they want to use that. What's really then fun is to do that specifically for girls, but I guess that's what new about it and why I discovered the specifics of what I'd like girls to be wearing, but still in my kind of teenage nerd boy vernacular. That's an absolute joy, and I really hope that I can do more of that. Marc by Marc Jacobs had that exact manifesto of girl power, and that was the exact kind of energy I felt I could bring, from a skating, subculture attitude: you can do it. You can be who you want. Express yourself. Fuck the man stuff, and do it for girls and a whole new audience.
I've always been comfortable with my masculine side. It's kind of nice that it's okay and cool and it's not something that I have to do on weekends.
I think it's really cool. Fashion is so interesting not just for the look—it's about the spirit at the time. That has such an uptake with women because they want to make statements about exercising freedoms that have previously belonged to men. And so part of my dialogue with clothes and graphics is about pushing an agenda like that, which I'm all for. Aries definitely has that aspect to it.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
Yeah. Absolutely, yeah. But I'd rather not be any -ist or something. I'm not dogmatic about any of this stuff, but I'm a humanist, or I don't know what. But yeah, absolutely, I'm all for women power or however you want to say it.
What's next? Is it difficult keeping the shop full of new stuff?
It's a dream come true, because we can finally realize these crazy ideas, and they're working so far. So we really want to push the bar out. Using the platform of the shop, you should get away with doing something a bit weirder, even just to create the right atmosphere. and so that's the next big thing, starting to generate stuff more quickly.
There is no sense of season. Palace just drops when you drop them.
That's how it's become. There's a bit of a program, but yeah. I guess if it seems slightly random, that's ideal, so that's what it should be.