Example poetry

The Commercial Poetry of Lev Tanju of Palace

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Descriptions of Palace products: the selected archives is one of the most deliciously particular versions of a fashion brand in recent memory. A joint venture between London-based skate brand Palace Skateboards and art book publisher Phaidon, it delivers exactly what its title promises: over 300 pages of thumbnail text that accompanied items for sale on the online store. from Palace, all written over the past decade and more by co-founding creative director Lev Tanju.

While product copy is a fundamental part of online retail, it’s usually only noticed when it’s gone wrong – a typo, a repeated descriptor, an overly intellectual flourish describing what is, ultimately, a pretty basic rider. So what’s in Palace’s copy that deserves a bound retrospective?

On the one hand, the descriptions of Tanju are very irregular. They often have nothing to do with the products they’re attached to, written in stride bullet points ranging from bawdy to erudite. Its all-caps slang style may be totally impenetrable to the uninitiated, but there is a kind of poetry to it. Here is a representative example, describing a pair of socks:

  • JUST ORDERED DELIVEROO TAPAS

  • WILL LET YOU KNOW WHAT IT SAYS

  • SEEMS LIKE A BET

  • YOU KNOW HOW SHRIMPS TRAVEL

  • DISCOVER THIS PAIR OF SOCKS

Or this one, appearing next to a lime green T-shirt with reflective print and piping:

The book organizes thousands of these excerpts into sections such as “Religion”, “Etiquette”, “Romance”, “Food and Drink”. Topics of persistent interest for Tanju include male pattern baldness, streaming TV, the comfort of his couch, and how exhausting it is to come up with new product descriptions. He’s a top-to-bottom foodie as likely to advise on structuring a perfect takeout order at McDonald’s as he is to worry about a hypothetical Palace sales slowdown, forcing him to scale his calamari budget.

Tanju warmly nags the reader, like an older brother. The overall effect is one of raw usability, and if you really need, say, an accurate pocket count on a pair of pants, the technical breakdowns for each piece are included on the site as well. A 2021 profile in GQ, the most extensive on the brand to date, devotes two paragraphs to legends and their carefree charm.

Examples of captions written by Tanju, taken from ‘Palace Product Descriptions: The Selected Archive’

As the brand grows, Tanju’s assignments as a lone copywriter also increase. “Basically when Instagram was starting out as a platform, the products were growing and I was writing stupid shit about them,” Tanju said in a phone interview. “There were only a few products back then, like five or something, and it snowballed from there.”

When his caption for a hoodie has him moaning about how much more he has to write that night, it works as a humorous reminder that copywriting is a job at a company largely focused on image rather than text. . “Palace is quite a personal brand for me,” says Tanju. “It’s a lot of my life and my friends, so I like how the person running the company writing the descriptions brings you down to ground level. I’m going to make fun of our own products, which, I think, is funny too.

Tanju has been Palace’s editor for as long as they have products to sell. The label was founded in 2009 by Tanju and his friend Gareth Skewis, who previously ran fashion and skate brands and were co-owners of legendary London skate shop Slam City Skates.

Lev Tanju photographed at home for the FT by Guy Bolongaro

Lev Tanju photographed for the FT by Guy Bolongaro

“I was a beneficiary, I was skateboarding at Southbank, and all my friends around me were really talented skateboarders,” says Tanju. “I didn’t think they were getting much from the brands they rode for, they were taken for granted. I came to Gareth, who is handling the business, with a proposition and he helped get it off the ground. I’m great into clothes, so it branched out pretty early on and I wanted to do quality stuff.

Beyond Palace’s ever-growing line of core products – which started with skateboards and hardware and now runs the gamut from denim and Gore-Tex outerwear to button-down shirts and knitwear – Palace collaborates enthusiastically and often, sketching a lifestyle with partners: Adidas, Stella Artois, French artist and designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Mercedes, Gucci, who seek the credit that comes from working with a legitimate skate brand . Palace now has stores in London, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, although Tanju’s texts are an online-only exclusive.

“I’m going to make fun of our own products, which I think is funny too,” says Tanju

The loosening of the Tanju captions makes one wonder what other designers might say if they took the same approach to communicating with their audience. How much more appealing would a sighting of Miuccia Prada or Raf Simons make one of their jackets, even if it was just a Tanju-esque reflection on restaurant etiquette? Or Rick Owens, who also writes indelibly in all caps?

Online shopping has become brutally functional, spiritually deadly. The similarity of mobile interfaces has flattened a wide range of experiences into a style of interaction that makes everything vaguely feel like shopping, whether one is passing through black slingbacks on Ssense or potential partners on Hinge.

In the right environment, however, shopping can be rewarding. Sometimes it’s educational, with the potential to broaden one’s tastes and understanding of craftsmanship, and sometimes it’s simply entertaining. Palace, through Tanju’s hasty micro-ramblings, is one of the few e-commerce operations that has succeeded in creating a consistently surprising experience. It’s worth celebrating in print.

Plus, amid delivery app orders, bathroom jokes, and episodes of Pastry shop, Tanju sometimes delivers something useful with irony. Like this, accompanying varsity jacket available for purchase at present on the Palace online store:

File this one in the “Etiquette” section of the next edition.

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