AFTER ABOUT 45 enjoyable minutes, during which he discusses French politics, American movies, Muslim veils and September 11, Jean Touitou gives a sigh, and says: 'It's nice not to talk about fashion. To be frank, what can you say about it?' While that's a restful concept for any interview - let's ignore the fundamental reason for meeting and just chat - it reinforces his image: the anti-fashion fashion designer who in 1988 created a label, A.P.C. (Atelier de Production et de Creation) that trod the lonely path of quality minimalism, while the rest of the world was buying - or thinking about buying - Lacroix-darling's puffball skirts and Joan Collins' shoulder pads. In other words, not talking about fashion is the fashionably expected thing for Touitou to do. He does it entertainingly, falling into conversation with such ease it's like the continuation of a previous exchange. When the talk turns towards clothes - because, after all, this interview is taking place in the freezing offices of I.T., which has just opened an A.P.C. shop in Paterson Street, Causeway Bay - he switches tack with perfect grace. This is A.P.C.'s second appearance in Hong Kong. The first was in the mid-1990s, in Wyndham Street, and was the result of a tip-off from Touitou's mail-order division. 'They said, 'It's funny, this client in Hong Kong is buying a lot. It's suspicious, maybe it's illegal.' So I called her and asked her what she did with what she buys. And she said, 'Excuse me, I'm a fan, my closet is full of it'.' The fan was stylist and fashionable woman about town Caroline Nie, and the pair decided to go into business. 'It was a little bit like an adolescent. I said, 'You're nice. I like you. Let's open a shop,'' Touitou says. 'I won't tell you no lies. It did OK. We made some mistakes. I've grown up a bit. Now I have a sales manager, and I say, 'Please try and develop us.' I don't know how we found I.T., or they found us, but I like these people.' Touitou pauses. 'To tell you the truth, I hate business people when they look business-like.' As he's looking rather business-like himself - shirt and tie, dark colours, heavy coat - this seems a strange admission. When this is pointed out, Touitou, who turned 52 last Sunday, laughs, fingers the grand crest on his jacket, and says: 'You know what this means? It means 'a bastard of France'. I have an old house, in Normandy. I saw it there. Someone told me what it means. I photographed it and had it made into this.' He has something scribbled in biro on his left hand which turns out to be instructions to buy series two of 24, the TV series starring Kiefer Sutherland. 'My children really love it. Me, too. I said to Sofia Coppola and her brother - is that enough name-dropping for you? - I said to them, 'Is it really retarded, from the American point of view, to like this series?' They laughed, pretty hard.' And Touitou does an imitation of a grandly dismissive sneer. His friends tend to be among the cutting-edge film, music and photography crowd, with surnames such as Coppola and Cassavetes (Zoe, daughter of John, with whom he co-produced Men Make Women Crazy). Many are American although he hasn't visited the US since September 11, 2001. 'I love my American friends, but I'm scared of immigration,' he says, and now he's being serious. 'Of having to explain, 'I won't hurt you because I'm a Jew.' I have a French passport, but it says I was born in Tunisia, so ...' There's another shrug. 'There is a real rise in anti-Semitism in France. And the so-called 'left' in France have made me a Jew. You know what? I've never been to Israel. In my youth, I was physically fighting for the Palestinians, really defending them when I was a student. Now ... it's getting scary.' Touitou's father and grandfather, who was Algerian, both worked in the tannery business. The young Jean left Tunis when he was nine, and went on to study history and linguistics at the Sorbonne. Initially, he wanted a career in music, but he took a part-time job with a leather manufacturer, found himself working in Kenzo's stockroom and somehow fell upwards on the fashion ladder. He worked for Agnes b., setting up its New York branch. When Touitou decided to launch A.P.C., he wanted it to have an 'insanely ordinary' - and expensive - aesthetic. 'I think I stayed a bit too long in that minimalism,' he says. 'I was hiding details that nobody could see - hiding the logo on the back of a zipper. Totally snobbish, I totally confess. It was a vicious game, trying to be snobbier with that minimalism.' What changed? 'I went into some heavy crisis four or five years ago,' he says. He pauses and wraps his coat around himself. 'Then I thought if I continue to do the same thing, it's going to become so boring I'll become bankrupt, there'll be a catastrophe. It's difficult to last a long time.' In other words, he moved on as the tide shifted and minimalism became accepted. 'Yes. I totally reversed my thinking. I think now that the new minimalism is making a few, more sophisticated things, showing personality.' In the past, Touitou was famous for not giving interviews, doing promotion or appearing in photos. Today, he picks up a magazine with a photo of himself in it and says, grinning: 'I really like this picture, I'm not very photogenic, but this I like.' Not that he has exactly embraced fashion's mainstream. He is writing a screenplay, with a friend, about a fashion editor who becomes a prostitute. Cynics might say that a story about selling oneself in the fashion world requires no great stretch of the imagination. 'It's true,' Touitou says, gleefully. 'You know, that Robert Altman film about fashion [Pret-A-Porter] was pretty poor, and one needs to say something funny and mean about fashion. You know what it's like when these people shake their heads and say, 'Shoes are such an issue'. It makes you laugh, hard.' He does laugh, hard, then looks, briefly, penitent. 'I do not hate fashion as much as it sounds,' Touitou says. 'It might as well be pretty, good quality, sexy, whatever. But there's too much noise about fashion.'