A grunge goddess Kali dancing next to a boom box, Jesus Christ with a crown of guitars around his head, Lord Narasimha emerging from the fire—Delhi-based designer Nitin Bal Chauhan’s line Bhootsavaar is being noticed for its feisty fashion. Bhootsavaar, which had a soft launch at the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week (WIFW) in October, will be launched formally soon. The line includes T-shirts with complex artwork, even some macabre themes with intricate detailing and flaming colours.

Chauhan is not the only one to include T-shirts in his prêt line. Manish Arora’s new collection, “Indian by Manish Arora", launched in December in collaboration with women’s wear brand Biba, too has T-shirts buzzing with modern, kitschy prints.

Chest-thumpers: A Manish Arora tee at Biba.
Chest-thumpers: A Manish Arora tee at Biba.

In Amrish Kumar’s creations for LABEL, a Ritu Kumar sub brand, T-shirts are now a staple. “Most collection themes can be interpreted for T-shirts," says Kumar, adding that from next year, LABEL will introduce more groups (print, embroidery, beading, other surface textures) in T-shirts as it is clearly seen as a growing category in prêt.

Couturier Tarun Tahiliani, who started making digitally printed T-shirts some years back, found they were fast-sellers and turned them into a staple. At a new store expected to launch in Delhi’s Defence Colony this month, he will also stock garments to compete in price points with brands like Zara while keeping TT’s brand promise in décor and visual merchandising thriving. The T-shirts from his Spring/Summer 2013 line will have pride of place.

Designer Anupamaa Dayal, who started making T-shirts a few years back simply to find an answer to her customers’ query—what shall we wear this garment with?—now makes them every season. “Pairing T-shirts with garments is the best way to explain one’s sensibility as a designer," she says.

The T-shirt is getting dressed up. Loved as a tool by fashion stylists to put together a distinctive look, it’s simple yet versatile. “A tee is the easiest garment in everyone’s wardrobe, that’s why it sells," says designer Hemant Sagar, underlining that it is still difficult to see it as high fashion. “Not only that, but the logistics for manufacturing T-shirts as prêt are problematic unless a designer has multiple outlets across the country or distribution networks that replicate that of mass brands," says Shantanu Mehra of designer duo Shantanu & Nikhil, who collaborate with sports brand Adidas for T-shirts and other products.

Tees by In Divine Interest are based on mythological figures.

T-shirt themes that represent the cultural medley of India Now—retaining cultural distinctions amid multicultural influences—are best-sellers, a clear market insight. These include contemporary prints, meaningful messages (not just attention-seeking ones or the famous slapstick phrases that dotted T-shirts earlier) and the ongoing exploration of religion as pop art. A funky mix of realism and idealism forms their content. Chauhan decided to make the most of the T-shirt momentum, yet make a strong, individual point. “Everyone is driven about something. You could be crazy about music, biking or food. Bhootsavaar is about wearing that madness," he says.

Deepika Govind’s Pop Patola T-shirt with churi sleeves.

Busting notions that men are crazy about T-shirts as casual wear or that tees entice a younger clientele, their creators are now eyeing a wider clientele. Designers point out that older age groups too are buying T-shirts. “Our range includes pieces that could interest buyers in their mid-40s," says Amrish Kumar. Dantas put it in another way. “A young girl may gift an anti-smoking T-shirt to her father," he says.

It’s a tee party and all are invited.

Shefalee Vasudev contributed to this story.