Joan Didion once wrote that the freeway experience in Los Angeles is the only form of secular communion for its residents. The city-famous for its sprawl, its artifice—has long been a place where subcultures are as crucial for survival as they are creatively verdant. Take the skateboarders of Venice Beach and Manhattan Beach who so unexpectedly captured the imagination of Francesco Ragazzi, the Italian-born artistic director at Moncler, that he made a book and clothing line inspired by them. “Los Angeles is so far from Italy that it really looks like a different world,” he says. “For me, it’s almost like going to Australia.”
On his first trip there, in 2011, he started taking photos of the skaters he saw—a culture foreign to him in Milan, where he grew up and is based. That turned into Palm Angels, a glittery photo book released in 2014. Pharrell Williams (better known in the skate community as Skateboard P) wrote the introduction. “I tried to understand skate culture and find the complexity in it,” Ragazzi says. “Like what Bruce Weber did to surf culture, I wanted to break the cliché that skateboarding was just about tricks.” From the book came a series of limited-edition collaborations (hats and T-shirts), and then, in 2015, a full-fledged brand, also called Palm Angels. “It created a whole world,” he says.
The unisex clothes paint a vivid picture of the L.A. skate scene. Recent collections feature T-shirts emblazoned with Ragazzi’s photos, graphic hoodies, ripped jeans, varsity jackets—all with an air of Italian whimsy, as seen in detailed embroidery and gold accents (a marijuana leaf is a recurring symbol). As the brand grows—it just released its first womenswear capsule collection in January—Ragazzi describes the increasingly dichotomous nature of his jobs at Moncler and Palm Angels: “Milan is like the empty space where I create, but I need inspiration from everywhere I go—especially Los Angeles.”