All the members of the Education First cycling team can do as they unload their new Palace x Rapha gear is laugh. “Oh, fuck,” one team member exclaims in a video posted to Rapha’s Instagram Stories. Another starts quacking, which sounds odd…until you see a helmet made to look like the head of a duck, with big bulging eyes and a cartoonish yellow bill. (Suddenly, I’m even more bummed about the lack of real fashion weeks; it would have been great to see the helmet crowning some bold street style subject.) This is the sort of chaos pro sporting teams invite when they allow the kooky, subversive, and often rudely funny Palace into their rarefied circles. And that’s just what’s happening: Palace and Rapha are outfitting the EF team for this month’s Giro d’Italia, one of cycling’s premiere events.
As part of the collaboration, Palace and Rapha rebuilt the look of the Education First team from the ground up. “Everything from their casualwear and helmets to the bus and the bikes have been redesigned for the Italian grand tour,” according to Rapha. The kits take inspiration from ‘90s skateboarding and the repeating graphic patterns often found on the underbelly of decks. The result is a purposefully chaotic mish-mash: on top of the repeating pattern is Palace’s familiar duck looking stoned and holding the word “Palace” up like an accordion; just underneath that is a reverberating “EF” logo, while Palace’s Tri-Ferg symbol sits on the left breast. EF will wear the kits and those quacking helmets during the first time trial event at Giro d’Italia this Saturday. These jerseys, as well as the biker-issued socks, caps, musettes (French for cute little cycling bags), and an “off-bike” collection that includes tees, hats, hoodies, shirts, and a Gore-Tex jacket will all be up for release soon.
This is the next chapter in Palace’s surprisingly long quest for sports domination. Although the brand obviously originates in the world of skateboarding, it’s tried its hand at designing soccer kits for Juventus, the all-whites tennis players wear at Wimbledon, golfing gear for pros like Dustin Johnson, and now a cycling team. What these string of collaborations have in common is Palace’s insistence on disrupting the norms of relatively stuffy sports, and injecting a bit of humor wherever it goes. At Wimbledon, where decorum is as essential as the ability to swing a racquet, Palace puffed up logos and added small stripes of red and blue—the sartorial equivalent of scratching your face with a middle finger. For Juventus, Palace collaborated with Adidas on jerseys in a slimy and radioactive green.
Palace seems to choose its sports collaborations very deliberately. What tennis, soccer, golf, and cycling share is that they are often prestigious, historic, and very tradition-minded pursuits. Tennis and soccer, in particular, are often celebrated for how beautiful they are. The brand seems to want to muddy that up—Palace is the kid who crashes the country club and spray-paints a dick on the wall. The whole point is to make these sometimes-pretentious sports feel more approachable. “We aim to show cycling is for everyone, and that it’s worthy of your attention—and smiles,” Mary Wittenberg, the president of Education First Pro Cycling said in a press release. “Welcome to skate meets road racing in the land of fashion.”
Disrupting, despite how hackneyed that term can feel nowadays, was the entire purpose of this collaboration. After finding (and rapidly growing) its niche by designing elegant, stylish cycling gear, Rapha started dressing pro teams again two years ago with that exact goal in mind. Palace was brought in specifically because it wouldn’t be beholden to any of cycling’s norms. “We’ve teamed up with a company that is alien to cycling’s aesthetic, oblivious to its origins, and untrained in its traditions,” Rapha’s statement reads. In that case, mission accomplished. As the EF team grazed over their new gear, one member noted it’s “very loud, and we already had a pretty loud kit.” Another was only able to muster, “What is this?” This is your gear on Palace.