When Microsoft distributed a press photo of Satya Nadella, its incoming chief executive, last month, his outfit brought a surprising item of clothing to the fore: the sweatshirt.
This wasn’t just any sloppy Silicon Valley hoodie, though; the snappily dressed Nadella was wearing a fitted, navy marl sweatshirt that reflects the garment’s elevation from gym or loungewear to fashion statement.
“The sweatshirt is the new sweater,” says Todd Snyder, a New York-based menswear designer who has teamed up with activewear-maker Champion on a co-branded line.
On the catwalks for spring/summer, there were grey sweatshirts with lambskin fronts at Hermès; a pale pink style with a mushroom motif at Paul Smith; and versions featuring collaged artworks at Givenchy. For autumn/winter, they came knotted at Missoni and with leather details at Roberto Cavalli. Italo Zucchelli, creative director of menswear for Calvin Klein Collection, sent out sweatshirts emblazoned with names of the brand’s bestselling fragrances.
No longer mere wardrobe fillers, these sweatshirts have evolved with luxury fabrics, embellishments and appliqués, from Balmain’s leather panelling to Maison Martin Margiela’s suede elbow patches.
“It’s a way of incorporating elements from that designer’s show in a more relaxed, wearable way,” says Damien Paul, menswear buying manager at Matchesfashion. com. “Without question, the major catalyst for the trend has been Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy … his printed sweatshirts have been a retail phenomenon – they become the cult item of every season.”
So what is behind the sweatshirt’s rise to high fashion piece?
According to Adrian Ward-Rees, director of menswear at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, it is driven by a combination of factors. “Street culture has not only paved the way for a more casual way of dressing, but it has blended well with the increased trend of logos and graphics reminiscent of 1980s luxury sport brands,” he says.
Jean Touitou, of French brand APC, says he has seen sweatshirts in designer collections since he worked for Kenzo Takada back in 1977 and that, subsequently, in his own lines sweatshirts are essential. “A hoodie, in particular, is something I couldn’t live without, as opposed to tonnes of shirts which I could throw away.”
It is not just established labels that are capitalising on sweatshirts. A zip-up hoodie by San Francisco start-up American Giant attracted a waiting list of four months when it first launched. The company – which went from selling 1,000 sweatshirts a month to several thousand a week – has grown from sharing one factory to opening four of its own to keep up with demand.
American Giant’s chief executive Bayard Winthrop cites a general shift away from the formal suit and tie – although it is only in more relaxed industries such as tech and media that the sweatshirts favoured by Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg would be acceptable officewear.
As an alternative, try a thick cashmere hooded top or button-up version akin to a cardigan. Layering is key, and underneath a suit jacket a thin fabric will work better than a more structured top. At menswear trade show Pitti Uomo last January, Snyder saw the sweatshirt mixed with smart and casual pieces – from formal cashmere top coats to casual leather bombers.
The bottom line with this trend, however, is striking the right balance between class and comfort. Bradford Shellhammer, the New York-based entrepreneur and co-founder of Fab.com, flew 300,000 miles in 2013 but refused to sacrifice style for cosiness. He travels in a wardrobe of sweats by Prada, Osklen, Ralph Lauren Black Label and Timo Weiland that are body conscious in silhouette.
“It’s a much more European look, very slick,” he says. “I’ve had dinner at Jean-Georges in sweats. You just have to make sure the quality of the cotton is top notch.”