Wet Cement’s limited-edition Harry Rosen T-shirt. Story and photography by Brendan Adam Zwelling.
An in-store appearance by L.A. screen-printing T-shirt upstarts Wet Cement at Harry Rosen: Stranger things have happened, but possibly not amid the windsor knots and Canali double-breasted blazers of the menswear legend’s Bloor Street flagship branch. Stef Zeh and Andrew Lee, the friendly duo—designer and president, respectively—behind the breakout T-shirt line, set up temporary shop last weekend to press limited-edition Harry Rosen designs on demand for customers and media alike.
Your correspondent, having been given the chance to personally man the printing machine, left with a smart blue-on-blue version (plus a blue-on-self bonus, despite close supervision) that gave Harry’s some Chelsea Hotel-style grit. It would land comfortably in the Wet Cement design concept of signs, official warnings, notices, and scrawlings which populate the brand’s shirts, sourced from photos taken by Lee and Zeh themselves and printed with heavy emphasis on textual detail. Flip through them on the rack and they’re like a hazy, turbulent travelogue from a lost weekend in New York or an intense European tour.
Their hands-on, personal approach to production is what made the Harry’s gig possible: the setup on the main floor was essentially a micro version of their actual production line, and the process itself hasn’t changed much.
“In the beginning we didn’t have any money; I had a job when I was sixteen silk-screening t-shirts, so I knew how to do it,” Zeh recalls, with the honest earnestness of someone who still can’t quite believe how far an idea has taken her. “So we literally went to Home Depot and bought a 500 watt halogen bulb for $15. My darkroom in my old apartment was about this big [roughly the size of a single bed] and we used to sit in there playing Yahtzee together while the screens would burn, then I would go and wash them out in my bathtub with a paintbrush and a hose. So when Harry Rosen was like ‘We’ve got this machine but it’s kinda rickety,’ and we had to shove cardboard in it to make it work – this so brings it back to the beginning!”
Kitchen-sink commerce has since given way to sales at Neiman Marcus and Saks and a growing celebrity following.