Roberto Conti: the quiet couturier

DESIGNER Roberto Conti must be one of the best kept secrets in Hong Kong. His clients have come to him by word of mouth (he never advertises) and are extremely loyal.

His label, 'Chiaroscuro', which is a sort of shading technique used by painters, is as elusive to the tongue as his third floor studio is to the average pedestrian.

It is located in one of those narrow buildings in Lan Kwai Fong that you could walk past a million times without ever noticing. Nobody just happens by. If you find it, you were looking.

Conti appears. His near shaven head and black monk's robes are in sharp contrast to the quietly elegant clothing that make him popular with society expats and Chinese.

Conti was born in Malaysia to a Welsh mother and Italian father whose diplomatic service kept the family moving around.

'I went to high school here for a couple of years, but in all I attended 18 different schools, so it's hard to say where my roots actually are,' he says.

Hong Kong has been home for the past three years since Conti returned from England to open his own studio here in June 1992.

Besides designing, his other great love is the theatre which he studied at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London before deciding to devote his creative energy to fashion.

Conti's clothes are modern, lifestyle pieces that are as practical as they are attractive.

'I don't really mind if my clothes aren't immediately recognisable from a hundred metres away . . . I think that the woman should come first, not the outfit.

'I don't really consider myself a fashion designer per se. I think I must lie somewhere between a tailor and designer,' he says.

'I just filter through current ideas and interpret them into wearable garments that my clients can keep for years.' Hair & Make-up: Le Salon Orient, Central. Model: Roberta/Models Four