In 2017, the English skater and designer Lev Tanju traveled from London to New York to take a meeting at the Madison Avenue headquarters of the Ralph Lauren Corporation. Palace, the skate brand Tanju had founded with friends in 2009, was on the brink of a momentous collaboration: working with the legendary American fashion company on a co-branded collection that was set to include silk pajamas, velvet slippers, and the beloved “heelflip” Polo Bear sweater. Ralph Lauren had always been one of Tanju’s favorite brands (and a favorite of just about any skater who came up in the ’90s). Nevertheless, Tanju arrived for the meeting attired as he would be on most any other day—whether he was going to the pub or the skate park—wearing a pair of heather gray track pants that Palace had produced for a collaboration with Adidas, along with Gucci loafers in fluorescent green croc skin. The pants were particularly noticeable: They had a giant hole in one of the knees. What Tanju hadn’t considered was that he might be meeting with Ralph himself.
After a preliminary conversation with executives in a very corporate boardroom, Tanju and Palace cofounder Gareth Skewis were led through a pair of doors directly into Ralph’s office. “Oh, okay,” Tanju recalls. “Didn’t know about it.” Mr. Lauren, for what it’s worth, isn’t the type to be too concerned about dress codes, Tanju says. “Ralph don’t care about that shit,” he says. “He’s so varied in what he wears, do you know what I mean? He looks like a fucking mountaineer or a cowboy half the time. He runs his own kind of shit.”
The meeting was as casual as Tanju was dressed. Lauren talked about his appreciation for European sportswear and his high-end Western offshoot RRL, which Tanju and Skewis had always loved. Tanju shared a story about seeing Lauren at the Ralph store on Madison Avenue years before—at the time he’d thought he was viewing a hologram. Now he was meeting the real thing up close. “I left that meeting,” he continues, “and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is fucking crazy. What did I just do?’ We went and got fucking annihilated afterwards, straightaway. Just went and drank so much booze. It was amazing. Just happy, like, ‘Whoa, do you believe we did that?’ ”
Tanju’s dreams have a way of becoming reality, and the collection that would eventually grow out of that meeting included not just sweaters and slippers and pajamas but other classic Polo pieces like rugby shirts and corduroy trousers, all designed by Palace. There were even Polo skate decks. And for the promo campaign behind the collection, there was no reining in Tanju’s wild creative impulses. He decided that he wanted to have a horse, ridden by Palace team skater Lucien Clarke, jump over a Volkswagen Golf GTI—a striking collision of iconic European engineering and Ralph Lauren’s classic vision of the American West. The next thing he knew, he and Skewis were in Spain, making it happen, with acclaimed British fashion photographer David Sims (who shot the photos accompanying this story). “And the horse fucking jumps over the car,” Tanju says. “And then you’re just like, ‘Whoa, that was amazing, man.’ And David Sims takes a photo of it and it becomes a proper thing.”