Was Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld spelling out a V for victory?

V-shapes, from lampshade skirts to triangular necklines, ran through the haute couture collection he presented on Tuesday to a front row of celebrities, fashion editors and fabulously wealthy ladies who lunch.

On a set made of giant tubes inspired by organ pipes, the show was testament to the thriving health of made-to-measure haute couture at a time when retailers in the United States and Europe are struggling against a slowing economy.

Those tubes were shrunk to tiny proportions and embroidered on the sleeves and hem of sculptural day suits for an accordion pleat effect. For mature customers, there were floorlength gray sequined gowns with tapered skirts that recalled the 1920s illustrations of Erte.

Picture-frame hats set off geometric bobs in the style of Audrey Tautou, the French actress who has been signed as the new face of Chanel No 5 perfume.

It was the kind of canny mix that has made the ponytailed Lagerfeld designer a pop culture icon, who even makes a cameo appearance in the latest Grand Theft Auto video game.

"He's got that kind of classic elegance and that punk rock sensibility as well," actress Patricia Arquette told The Associated Press.

At the Christian Lacroix display, new clients from Singapore, Russia and India prepared to join the elite club _ estimated at 200 clients worldwide _ who can afford haute couture creations with price tags starting in the five-figure range.

Their appetite is ferocious, and apparently immune to economic woes, said Lacroix CEO Nicolas Topiol. Despite the strength of the euro, sales of the last couture collection were up 40 percent versus a year earlier, with several clients ordering five or six outfits at a time, he noted.

"It was a good season, so we're crossing our fingers for this one," Topiol told the AP.

Lacroix should find plenty of takers for his painterly gowns, which were fit for a latter-day Marie-Antoinette _ or perhaps front row guest Helen Mirren, who wore Lacroix to accept her best actress Oscar in 2007.

From a tapestry-printed coat with gold-embroidered sleeves to a sunflower yellow draped chiffon dress with a single pearl gray satin sleeve, these were creations of breathtaking artistry.

At Givenchy, Italian designer Riccardo Tisci provided plenty of daywear options alongside his stunning draped jersey evening gowns.

As temperatures soared, his models traipsed valiantly across a catwalk covered in wood chips, swathed in heavy waxed leather jackets lined with extra-thick alpaca fur _ perfect for cold winters in Moscow.

The collection was inspired by the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, and details included geometric motifs stamped onto leather coats, poncho dresses in brown-and-beige stripes and a cocoon cardigan in a Peruvian knit motif.

Houston socialite Becca Cason Thrash said there was a downside to the increasingly globalized couture clientele: jet-setters risk coming face to face with someone wearing the same outfit.

"I go to a party in London and there we are together, bookends at 30,000 euros (US$47,000). And you're like, looking for a cyanide capsule," Thrash said with a laugh.