TWO men of the cloth passed through Hong Kong recently. One was wearing it; the other, talking about it. Jack Lenor Larsen and Manuel Canovas have earned international reputations as fabric designers in very different ways. Larsen criss-crossed the villages of the world, a weaver who believed the link to cultures was in their cloth. By sharing looms, things became clearer. Canovas, the son of a Spanish Castilian artist, was born in Paris. As a student of art and architecture, he sought inspiration from the past - art history and archaeology. Old documents and Chinese porcelain supplied inspiration for several of his lines. So did travelling. India taught him about colour and Japan challenged his mind with graphics and refined geometrics. His characteristic floral prints that grace palaces in Europe and presidential homes can be traced to the botany assignments of the then 12-year-old. In broadening his scope in the mid-60s, he added those prints to swim-wear and beach accessories. His touch eventually reached related fields - wallpaper, tableware and home fragrances. Canovas was in Hong Kong recently to talk about upcoming trends. Looking a bit rumpled from an early morning arrival from France, he cut a debonair appearance in a Latin way. Over coffee at The Source, a decorating firm on Wyndham Street, he chatted withdesigners and journalists. ''It's easier to talk about what was than will be,'' he began, then dispensed hints at what's to grace the fabric books - more solids, less prints, softer colours, a revival of Indian prints. ''I see fabric as music, like a composer,'' he said of his creative process. ''Whem I did peonies [one of his most successful images], I wrote everything down. How many colours, the various ways to draw them. It's a method [of creating], a technical thing, nothing spontaneous. The idea for the fabric comes first, then the use, later.'' What does he look for when he visits the home of a prospective client? Fresh flowers, books and photos. Computer-generated designs? ''I hate them. The computer creates nothing. It just gives back what you gave it,'' Canovas said. The influences on his career? Designers Billy Baldwin and David Hicks roll off his lips. And Jack Larsen. ''Larsen has a taste for the ethnic, the big shapes and patterns, the ikats. Larsen is a great textiles man. ''But he is more on the weaving side. He has a feeling for yarns and weaves. I am more in prints.'' In appearance, Jack Larsen could pass for a lanky, eccentric academic. The black beret is a trademark. But how he puts together the round white spectacles and the woven scarf tossed over the shoulder, sets him apart from fashion clones. On a recent afternoon Larsen was scheduled for an interview and a luncheon with interior designers at Altfield Interiors on Graham Street. When 30 minutes had passed, the general manager, fearing the designer got lost on Hollywood Road, spearheaded a search party. The gentle man finally returned with an impish grin. He succumbed to the beauty of an antique Laotian brocade, he offered as apology to his hostess. When complimented on his elegant jacket, he responded in a monotone. ''I did the fabric. [Issey] Miyake did the rest.'' Small talk interrupts his thoughts. But ask him the most rudimentary question - the definition of ikat - and he cannot give enough time. The native of Seattle began as a weaver. And, despite four decades of success and international recognition, Larsen never left the loom. He made time to write nine books, numerous papers and teach. Currently working on a 40-page essay, he finds that literary form less daunting than a book. His hand-woven fabrics are found in museum collections. His client list is as diverse as the stamps in his passport - DuPont, Frank Lloyd Wright, Dansk tableware, a church in Rochester, New York, a theatre curtain for Phoenix, Arizona, Pan Am and Braniff, I.M. Pei, chairs for a Dallas symphony centre. In the late 50s the first stretch upholstery for jet airliners was launched from the Larsen Design Studio in New York. Before the Woodstock Generation bought their earth shoes, Larsen was championing environmental design. One evening, during his Hong Kong visit, he spoke about the responsibility of collecting textiles to a group of enthusiasts. Slides from his work in South America, Asia, China and Africa illustrated his descriptions. He ended the evening by reading a poem. Poetry-writing, he mused, is a sign of maturity. Is there anything he would like to do that he hasn't already done? He nodded. ''I'd like to have more time.''