On Christmas day last month, both American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and tennis superstar Serena Williams wore sweatshirts. Swift wore an elf-like piece in emerald green with an orange hoodie dangling at the back, paired with white and orange striped slack pants, while Williams sported a blue-grey one with the hood pulled up over her head.

The sweatshirt also showed up at the Autumn/Winter 2015 collections of Givenchy, Lanvin and Kenzo, and of Indian designers such as Sanchita Ajjampur, Pankaj and Nidhi, Huemn and Namrata Joshipura. Globally, designers upgraded the casual winter staple—a sweat-absorbing, grey and warm utilitarian garment—with plush fabrics, embellishments and whimsical prints.

Indian designers have created their own versions of the statement sweatshirt. It has beads, sequins and stone work, graphic prints, leather or fur touches, and sleek metallic hardware. It shuns extreme glitter and veers towards folksy, vintage or futuristic patterns. “People have started dressing up better for everyday and not just for special occasions," says Nandita Lalwani of the husband-wife designer duo Hemant and Nandita, contextualizing the new sweatshirt. Worn with trousers or a skirt and teamed with leather brogues, it can become workplace attire. When layered under a structured jacket and clubbed with denims and boots, it goes glamorous.

Statement sweatshirt by Huemn
Statement sweatshirt by Huemn

Pranav Mishra of fashion label Huemn says this drift points to the merging of luxury and street wear in India. It has, according to him, “included an old-world street silhouette like a sweatshirt being worked as day and night or evening wear simultaneously". While street wear refers to a mode of dress preferred by urban youth in 1980s’ US (and not just what people wear on the street), the sweatshirt takes off from the fitness boom of the same decade, which became the catalyst for the crossover of sportswear into fashion.

Mishra, however, credits the wider acceptance of the sweatshirt to fuss-free normcore dressing, which is primarily about comfort. In the past, Huemn has designed sweatshirts with toned down elements—strategically placed zippers, see-through fabrics, and clever surface ornamentation—like the “Varsity" sweatshirt recently sported by actor Alia Bhatt and the “Selfie" sweatshirt worn by actor Tisca Chopra from the label’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection. The label’s oversized sweatshirts with leather work or fur trim, showcased at the Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) Winter/Festive 2015, were runway hits.

It was in the period from the 1980s to the 2000s that international designers such as Norma Kamali, Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier, Michael Kors, Yohji Yamamoto, Balenciaga, Proenza Schouler and Marc Jacobs began altering the relaxed silhouette. From a youthful and spirited garment, it became a site to announce the wearer’s convictions (through messages) as well as a glamorous separate.

Indian designers have been experimenting with a range of influences. Besides detailing, the new sweatshirt also includes experimental cuts and fits. For his Autumn/Winter 2015 line, Mishra combined flat pattern-making and draping on body forms to create a futuristic, unisex silhouette (in black, hand-cut leather and neoprene) that is comfortable and stylized. “The challenge I face while designing sweatshirts is to maintain this philosophy, control or remove details and to think glocally, all in the same breath," he says. His design team experimented with 100% silk, wool and leather. Huemn, a play on the words “human" and “hue", focuses on chic minimalism. It has been actively pushing sports-luxe fashion and tailored saris.

Another example of the statement sweatshirt are those with squiggly-graphic flower patterns from the Spring/Summer 2015 line of Ilk by designers Vinita Adhikari and Shikha Goel. Texture is their highlight. “It is an easy silhouette," says Vinita, who does not use her second name. “Adding texture—bling or any other element—makes it look good," she says.

Statement sweatshirt by Ilk
Statement sweatshirt by Ilk

Designer Shahin Mannan wove tales on her Autumn/Winter 2015 sweatshirts. “Each sweatshirt tells a story and this is unlocked through meticulously handworked motifs," she says. A piece with the Eiffel Tower is about her childhood dream of visiting Paris. Mannan starts by doing the artwork herself and then gets it replicated on fabric in Indian embroidery techniques—crystal and beadwork, cut-dana and thread-work—all joined with simple chain-stitch. She just uses one or two elements for every sweatshirt to avoid a style overload. Her sweatshirts are made from 100% cotton in black, grey or army green, with fleece on the inside, worked around basic bodice patterns.

Designers say a luxe sweatshirt does what a smart casual dress or a light silk sari can do for most Indian women. It can be styled up or down. Take your pick from the Autumn/Winter 2015 lines of Anita Dongre, Monisha Jaising, Namrata Joshipura, Sanchita Ajjampur, Yogesh Chaudhary, Pankaj and Nidhi, and Dhruv Kapoor.

But, as Vinita says: “Keep the overall look simple. That is the beauty of the sweatshirt."

Close