Who is Fhilip'O?

A passion for fashion

Fhilip is one of those individuals who can’t be ignored. Flamboyant, sociable and completely OTT, he draws people to him like a moth to a flame. And this is him in toned-down mode. “I’ve calmed down tremendously in the past year,” he smiles. “The limelight doesn’t hold the same allure as it used to. Opening my own studio has been life changing.”

He grew up around his mom and gran, watching them create outfits from commercial patterns. Fhilip says his passion stems from a fascination with the magic of making something from nothing, using only a piece of cloth. He didn’t, however, pursue this interest until later in life, when his dormant talent was reawakened after buying a second-hand sewing machine and over-locker from a friend.

Up until then he had been using an Italian way of pattern taking, but found it impractical. “I didn’t think there was anyone in town who could teach me design, until I walked into Village SPAR one day and saw an advertisement for Xela Fashion College on the notice board. After that,  everything changed.”

Alex Aswan, Xela’s owner, became his mentor and teacher; he completed her two-year full-time diploma in design and craft. Being one of only five centers in the country that offers a comprehensive, internationally accredited course, it opened Fhilip’s eyes - and equipped him with skills he could only dream about.

Describing the course as intensive and hands-on, he says there’s no fooling around: miss one class and you “lose the plot”. Standards are high and students have to be committed and dedicated. At the same time, Alex is passionate about teaching and a mother figure to her charges. Fhilip says she will always be his inspiration and a dear friend.

Once he completed his studies, he opened a small studio adjacent to Xela - from where he operated for a while. He finally took the plunge and moved his business to Sonpark and out from under Alex’s wing. In hindsight, he regards it as the best decision he could have made, as it established him as a designer in his own right and not merely an extension of his mentor.

It didn’t end there, however. Earlier this year Alex approached him with a business proposal. After decades in the designing business, she decided to focus solely on her first love: teaching, offering to sell Fhilip the fashion-designing side of Xela.

After consulting with his husband and financial adviser, Riaan Oosthuizen (who Fhilip refers to as the “brain” and himself the “talent”), he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It was a major decision and one he had to approach clinically, not emotionally. Alex still trades under the name Xela and Fhilip under Fhilip O, but the designing aspect has been transferred to him in its entirety. It launched his life into overdrive.

He seems shell-shocked at the change of pace his life has undergone. “I never thought one could progress from being a student to a fully fledged business owner and employer in the space of four years,” he says. “I always dreamt of having my own business, but it never occurred to me that it would happen at this phenomenal pace. And so many people advised me against starting a business in the current economic climate!”

Lowveld women are fashion-conscious, he says, but need to understand their body proportions and “colour confidence”. “If you dress according to your shape and age, you can’t go wrong.”

Fhilip is inspired by the artistic side of creating a garment; of constructing the perfect pattern with the perfect fit. To achieve this, clients come for multiple fittings, sometimes up to six. “It’s my passion. I really go the extra mile.”

Although avant garde garments are his first love, he understands the limitations in the local market. He does literally anything - from matric farewell outfits for both boys and girls, corporate wear, alterations to special-occasion outfits... the works (during the interview, a customer walked in wanting curtains shortened, he’ll even do that!

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