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Talking skate, fashion and LA with Palm Angels’ Francesco Ragazzi

How to turn a photography project documenting LA’s skate scene into a cult lifestyle brand that oozes creativity, artistic flair and, most importantly, imagination? That is the journey of designer and dreamer Francesco Ragazzi, the founder and creative director of Palm Angels.

While reinventing American culture and streetwear with signature fits, codes and prints, Palm Angels has shown in Milan and New York over the years. And this season, the brand is ready to shine under the spotlights of Paris. 

Want to know more? We’ve got you covered. In the run-up to Palm Angels’ new big show, Francesco Ragazzi sat down with Istituto Marangoni Milano students as part of the school’s Front Row 2023 event. We gathered insights as he traced the evolution of his brand.

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at Istituto Marangoni San Babila Campus

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan
 
From a book documenting Los Angeles skate culture to a lifestyle brand with a worldwide reputation: Palm Angels is built upon a dream and realised through constant belief

Francesco Ragazzi was born in 1980 in Milan, then still a world apart from the metropolis it is today and far from its current central role on the international scene. Opportunities to work in the fashion world were still few and far between, and the industry heavyweights were still suspicious about the underground universe. Such a scenario would have put many off, but this was precisely what pushed Ragazzi never to stop dreaming, not to settle and to believe in himself. Although today he is one of the most dedicated and popular players in the streetwear arena, he faced many challenges in the past. 

After climbing the career ladder at Moncler, where he soon became the artistic director, Francesco Ragazzi sought inspiration in travelling. He found true joy in breaking new ground, experiencing cultures and embracing their values.

In 2014, his passion for photography led him to publish a book about the black-and-white shots he took in Los Angeles to document the city’s skate culture. The City of Angels is a city with a thousand shades that still gives him a sense of freedom he never wants to part. LA brings together opposing worlds, skateboarding and urban culture, and fights the taboos of sex and drug legalisation, but also sees very demanding VIPs with their habits and lifestyles.

Entitled Palm Angels, the book was influenced by the different references that fuelled Francesco Ragazzi’s creativity and resulted from years of work. It features pictures of the city’s boulevards lined with palm trees and the skate culture that has brought generations of like-minded people together. One of the most iconic photos is of a blond boy doing acrobatics on a skateboard – Francesco Ragazzi pointed out the similarity he found between that guy and an angelic figure as he was illuminated by the sun in the city’s almost surreal atmosphere.

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan

Francesco Ragazzi had a precise idea behind this photographic project: to merge American ideologies and philosophy with Italian aesthetics and to mix them with the typical irreverence of a creative artist who wants to overcome taboos and find the perfect chemistry between different cultures through his shots.

The book’s success was so overwhelming that Ragazzi established a brand under the same name based on the same concept. The goal of the Palm Angels label was to establish a presence on the market, standing out from other brands and becoming a forerunner of the mix between underground and mainstream. To reach this result, Ragazzi told Istituto Marangoni Milano students that he was inspired by Ralph Lauren, a pioneer in creating a company and a branded lifestyle.

As Francesco Ragazzi told us, he had no idea why people initially recognised him. His name on the book’s cover was next to the publisher Rizzoli and Pharrell Williams, who wrote the preface. So, he asked himself: “Theirs are big names, but why do people also recognise me when I walk down the street?” A few years have passed, and we have the answer to his question: from hype beasts and the cool American underground scene to the world’s top boutiques, everyone now associates palm trees and irreverent teddy bears with the DNA of Ragazzi’s Palm Angels.

 

When the fashion industry turned the spotlight on Palm Angels

“A brand should be something real, personal and convey a message: you cannot simply try to sell products to customers,” said Francesco Ragazzi. “You need to start a conversation with your community based on shared values and then turn your vision into items they can consume. This way, you can prove your truth and honesty, the two factors you need to succeed.”

“A brand should be something real, personal and convey a message: you cannot simply try to sell products to customers”– Francesco Ragazzi, founder and creative director of Palm Angels 
The brand has built its success by using digital tools as amplifiers, anticipating what has become widely popular today. In a nutshell, Francesco Ragazzi could ride the wave during a changing moment for fashion, where big brands no longer knew how to communicate and had not yet understood the value of D2C.

A trailblazing cult brand, Palm Angels has always looked to the relaxed West Coast vibe to target international celebrities, and here we can testify that Ragazzi has achieved his goal. Today, Palm Angels’ authentic connection to these scenes makes the brand a benchmark for high-end streetwear.

Francesco Ragazzi has also worked with foresight, seizing opportunities at the right time and managing to sign collaborations with some of the most influential figures in the global music and fashion industry. When asked which celebrities he would like to see wearing his designs, Ragazzi replied: “The only person not wearing my pieces was Justin Bieber, but he was spotted wearing Palm Angels a few days ago.”

But what were Palm Angels’ most iconic fashion collaborations? Too many to list them all, no doubt. From Formula 1 to Missoni, Palm Angels has partnered with various brands. The designer then mentioned Tod’s, a company with which he recently created a capsule, and his long-standing creative relationship with Moncler, crowned by his latest project, The Art of Lightness by Palm Angels, and the Moncler x Palm Angels collection, presented a few days ago as part of Moncler’s The Art of Genius 2023 in London. “They are true fashion giants; it is a great challenge,” he stated. “But we share one fundamental thing: the love for Made In Italy. My goal is to learn as much as possible from them so that we can grow.” 

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan
 
Palm Angels’ trump cards

Many aspects have contributed to Palm Angel’s success, first and foremost, the quality of the materials used in their garments. Not only are the fabrics high quality and eco-friendly, but they have evolved with the brand to make garments with advanced materials. 

Added to all this is Francesco Ragazzi’s dedication to consistently providing a well-rounded story, showing different perspectives of his personality and the brand, such as the one he will present on 5 March during Paris Fashion Week.

Discussing with Francesco Ragazzi, there was time for a successful young entrepreneur like him to give some advice to up-and-coming young fashion designers. “Those of you who want to start a fashion business must know it is not enough to be creative or focus exclusively on money. You need to strike a balance,” Ragazzi stated. “Today, nothing is new; everything has already been done.” He imagines the fashion system as a box where the only rule will be “no rules” in the coming years. It is an exciting perspective as it means that all creative people will have more freedom.

“Be authentic, preserve that relationship between dream and reality and... Make it happen” – Francesco Ragazzi

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan

Palm Angels' Creative Director Francesco Ragazzi during the Front Row Event at the IM San Babila School in Milan
 
 
Agnese Pasquinelli
Fashion Business, Digital Communication & Media student, 2nd year, Milan
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postgraduate-Master's Degrees • Master's Courses