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BY MELINDA R. SMITH January 2021

Melinda R. Smith: Tell me about yourself.

Seulement Zee: My name is Zee Bernardo. I grew up in Manila and came to America when I was 24. I am the man behind Tantum Los Angeles and Seulement Los Angeles. 

M.S.: When did you start creating things?

S.Z.: I started in 2004 with research and development for Tantum. In 2008, I released some hats in Japan through my friends’ stores, and then I released the hats in America through Union Los Angeles in 2010. After that, the brand exploded.

M.S.: What inspires you?

S.Z.: I’m inspired by Americana, denim and vintage military clothing—basically all the stuff they don’t make anymore. When I was growing up, the best things were made in the U.S.A. So when I started my own brand, it was really important for me to source everything in Los Angeles and only use small, family-owned manufacturers. 

M.S.: So, how did you go from Tantum to Seulement?

S.Z.: In 2012 I saw the changes in the industry, and I decided to pause and reevaluate what I was doing and why I was doing it. Seulement was created to be more ecologically responsible. Americans throw so many beautiful things away, and I saw the opportunity to give them a second life. Instead of buying new materials, I could work with whatever was already available to me. Not that there’s anything wrong with creating things from scratch, but I wanted this project to be something else. I loved being able to use my hands to create original pieces that would be very hard to replicate, in my opinion. We are living in a world where people like to wear things no one else is wearing, so the response to Seulement has been very positive. 

M.S.: That’s great. So, what did you do during the pandemic?

S.Z.: Well, when lockdown happened, I asked myself, how will I spend my time usefully? As an artist, I wanted to make some kind of statement that both reflected my passions and spoke to the pandemic itself. I decided to make a series of clothes that I would call pandemic clothing. They were all hand-stitched pieces, each of which took a minimum of two to three months to complete. 

M.S.: Wow—these are gorgeous! 

S.Z.: Thank you! It took me 73 days to make these. I had previously worked on a pair for two months at the beginning of lockdown. Before that my days were full of multitasking, from buying materials, to taking them to my pattern-maker and sewer, preparing for handstitched work, etc. I always had several projects going at the same time. But when lockdown happened, and it hit me as an artist that I couldn’t do what I had been doing before, I challenged myself to work exclusively on one project, and to do it for 8 to 10 hours at a time, without any other distractions, except my daily morning hike, which kept me sane.

M.S.: Wow, that does sound challenging! Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel for this pandemic, will you still work on such intense projects?

S.Z.: I think I will. I’m fortunate enough to be able to go wherever my vision leads me and to do whatever I want creatively, and also to have customers who know who they are and what they want in fashion. Also, as an artist, and a man who really loves fashion himself, it’s really nice to wear something that’s like an art piece. 

M.S.: Like? These are art pieces. You never fail to astonish me with your work. In fact, I see your work occupying a sort of lonely space between fine art and fashion—I personally would like to see your work in museums some day.

S.Z.: Thank you. But I think I’ve done my job, because what I’m creating is wearable art. 

M.S.: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Zee!

S.Z.: No, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this. As you know, I never give interviews, but what I’m creating right now makes me really happy, and I just wanted to share that. 

Seulement Los Angeles can be found on Instagram @seulement.losangeles.                         

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