HE MAY not have the level of recognition in Hongkong of other French designers, but Herve Leger is on his way to becoming one of the territory's best-selling Parisian high-fashion labels. Leger had his first taste of fame in Hongkong as friends of millionaire businessman Mr Dickson Poon and his wife Pearl noticed the gown she wore at their wedding reception last year. Mrs Poon had flown to Paris to see Leger in his atelier where she had the dress made-to-order. Fashion doyenne Joyce Ma had already picked up the label, and while the line has been available in Hongkong since 1989, it is just beginning to receive the attention of high-fashion buyers, not least because of the simplicity of style and the innovation of cut, but also because of the sometimes raw sexiness Leger puts into his clothes. He said he was looking forward to dressing more Hongkong women, and while he does all the designing himself, he leaves the business side to holding company Seagram's. ''We are working closely with Joyce, and there is no reason for us not to be interested in Hongkong. We are growing slowly but surely, and we plan to do a lot more in Hongkong,'' he said. Ma first visited Leger in his tiny shop some years ago, and was impressed by the youth and talent of the designer; now 35, he said he had been designing for 17 years. Leger launched a couture line four years ago, and agreed that being a relative newcomer to the competitive haute couture circle was not easy. ''There is a lot of competition in the field. Prices are extremely high and people are not buying as much as they used to. ''But that is the price we have to pay if we want to do this. It is a risk we are taking, but I don't think it is going to get any easier,'' he said. But Leger keeps going - despite flagging sales in high-fashion in Europe - because he loves to dress women. ''Basically, all designers have to find their own style and realise that women want to dress well. The way I regard fashion is I do clothes that are made in the couture spirit, even if they can be bought off the rack. ''I believe clothes are best if they are handmade, that the best dresses are ones that fit the body perfectly and that they should only be worn by women who are sure of themselves and are confident enough to show off their shapes,'' he said. LEGER'S garments are not for everyone; for his recent pret a porter show, he created a series of dresses made mostly out of elastic bands. The international fashion press raved about them, and the buyers loved them, but Leger conceded that in terms of wearability theywere limited. Apart from that indulgence, he said he tried to make his range as wide as possible. ''I use leather, soft fabrics, lots of prints and do everything from suits to gowns. I know the fashion tendency today is very 1970s and very grunge, but my collection is different. ''I think I am perceived as the sort of designer who cares about how women look, that they should be beautiful and not unattractive because they are being a slave to fashion.'' Because the world of high fashion has taken such a beating, designers like Leger have had to resort to licensing agreements; he is now working on accessories, swimwear and lingerie with the Herve Leger name. Leger received his training with some of France's best designers. He worked for a while with Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel and also spent time with Fendi and Lanvin. ''They all taught me a lot. I think Lagerfeld is one of the best in the business. He is probably representative of what is happening in fashion today, and he has always been that way: strong, open-minded and really aware of what people want. ''We worked well together. He gives the young people who work with him what they need, and if they are clever they can learn a lot. He is respected and a lot of young designers are inspired by him,'' he said. Leger described himself as an ''essentially French'' designer, adding there was a big difference between the French and Italian style of dressing. ''Italian clothes have always looked a little more casual, but the French tend to be a bit more dressed up. Italians like Gian Franco Ferre and Gianni Versace are almost French in their sophistication, but Giorgio Armani is as Italian as they come with his lean suits that look almost as if they are for men.'' Leger is also selling in Singapore, but has not entered the Japanese market yet because women there are ''shy''. ''My clothes are quite sexy and this might be a problem there,'' he said. ''But people everywhere are talking about a new sort of conservatism. People are looking for something different, and are tired of the typical fashion uniforms. ''I would like to have my own boutiques wherever I can. We have just started in Europe, but quite honestly, I am always the last one to know about expansion plans. All I know is we have big plans.''