HOW TO SPOT KRIS VAN ASSCHE? I am waiting for the designer in a bustling cafe a Manolo's totter from Paris' exclusive Avenue Montaigne, where the luxury conglomerates of Chanel, Prada and Dior stage fashion turf wars. Considering that Van Assche is fast ascending to the throne of menswear royalty, a swagger would be entirely justified, even expected. Yet when I spot the 31-year-old - alone and unencumbered by any sort of PR representative - weaving between the chairs of Armani-suited executives and the women that date them, there's nothing of the pomp and bravado that might accompany a designer whose independent label has just gone global and who just nabbed the top job at Dior Homme. 'I know, right? It's been a surreal few months,' he says in his understated way, looking like an undergraduate in his slack jeans and black bomber jacket. It's hard to reconcile the image of his catwalk theatrics (his last collection consisted of a raffish ragtag of demi-dandies in top hats, dust coats and heavy-duty boots, complete with the odd tiara) with the softly spoken man sitting opposite me who is politely ordering a sparkling water. 'It's all change. It's all go, go, go,' he says. It certainly is, not just at Dior Homme, where the Belgian-born, Paris-based designer recently took the post of artistic director, but with Van Assche's own label too, an independent venture that started with a dream and is now going global, thanks to its introduction to Hong Kong's Harvey Nichols. 'My clothes are about a man who takes the time to dress,' says the designer. 'I feel that is what modern menswear is lacking. When I design I think of a man who takes the time to think about what he wears. But at the same time there's a real down-to-earthness with my own line.' This 'down-to-earthness' takes the form of padded jackets with racer-striped velvet trousers and shirts with doodle details drawn on, juxtaposing a sporty, quirky cool aesthetic with maturity and a modern sense of elegance. His is a man who doesn't shy from a silk ribbon on his shirt. The label is clearly a labour of love for Van Assche, who runs it independently from his work at Dior in a small design studio with 'three or four' people. 'It's an environment with very few resources and it encourages creativity,' says Van Assche. 'It forces you to be positive and focused.' The Kris Van Assche story adheres to the formula of small-town boy turned fashion force to be reckoned with. Escaping to the esteemed Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Belgium from a suburban backwater, he found his spiritual home. 'It was all about personal style and expression,' he says. 'From there, the leap to the rigours of business with Hedi [Slimane] was a reality check.' Van Assche arrived as an intern in the menswear department of Yves Saint Laurent, assisting the company's then creative director, Slimane. 'He taught me a furious work ethic. With Hedi it's night and day, night and day. He never stops.' When Dior Homme came calling for Slimane, Van Assche followed. It must have been hard working in the shadow of a fashion god, but Van Assche is all charm on the subject of his venerable former boss. 'We grew together. I started long before he found fame. He's a star now, and what he established I now have to dissect and work with in my own way.' For Van Assche, setting up a fashion label from scratch was inspired by his own wardrobe. 'I looked at the menswear available and nothing appealed to me,' he says. 'I didn't want to look like an Italian peacock in a tropical-print shirt, but I didn't want to dress in the Gap. I wanted something beautiful and wearable.' A design ethos was born and now, in his sixth season, it's one that is taking steps towards building a strong Kris Van Assche identity. 'It's a continuing work in progress. A different way of working in menswear,' he says. 'The way I see my job ...' he trails off and thinks. 'To provide an option, an alternative, for the man who doesn't want to dress over the top and who doesn't want to blend in; who wants to look ... considered.' Van Assche clearly has an unwavering passion for what he does; his cool Flemish head heats up and he gesticulates when certain subjects spark his interest. He's also sensitive to criticism: when I mention past rave reviews of this shows, he reddens. 'You clearly didn't see all of them,' he says. Articulate and quick witted, Van Assche is nevertheless stumped when asked how he differentiates his dual design directives: Dior and his own line. 'I can't put it into words. It's very clear in my head, but the minute I step over the threshold at Dior I click into it. It's different to my own company. I am very conscious of having to respect the codes of the house.' What becomes clear is that the Kris Van Assche label is centred on accessibility and reality. With his own label in the ascent and the prestige of working for Dior Homme under his belt, Van Assche is reflective about the future. 'The thing is, I'm not in a hurry right now. I've moved at hyper-speed these last six years. Launching my own label was a huge risk, and every six months I feel like I'm sitting an exam. But ...' he trails off again and glances out of the window at the blustery romance of this Parisian day, as rain lashes the wide leafy boulevard. 'I know it's what I'm meant to be doing.' Then he hurries back to the studio. There is, after all, an exam to prepare for. Kris Van Assche is available in Hong Kong, exclusively at Harvey Nichols.