PARIS (Reuters) - An enormous globe rotated slowly in the middle of a circular catwalk at Chanel's ready-to-wear fashion show in Paris on Tuesday, with flags bearing the brand logo marking where the luxury label operates stores.
Only Chanel's creative director Karl Lagerfeld knows if the globe was a sign of global expansion or a geography lesson for the well-heeled crowd at his show, many dressed in the Chanel label that appeals to a global audience with money to spend.
At the Valentino show, meanwhile, designers Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli took a trip back through the centuries to present a serene and elegant collection inspired by the paintings of the Flemish masters.
Top luxury brands like Chanel and Valentino have seen their sales propped up by growing demand from Asia, in particular from China, and from the Middle East and Russia.
Chinese shoppers account for one-fourth of all luxury purchases globally and last year surpassed U.S. consumers to become the world's top spenders on luxury goods, according to consulting firm Bain & Co.
The head of Chanel's fashion division, Bruno Pavlovsky, told Reuters last November that the brand planned to end 2012 with 10 boutiques in China and 182 internationally [ID:nL5E8M8JYU] and it appeared the fashion house was on track with this plan.
"I can be very happy and pleased because when I started there were three or four (stores) 30 years ago, so it's not that bad," Lagerfeld, 79, told Reuters after the show.
Valentino, too, is expanding in Asia, Europe and the Middle East, helped by a new infusion of funding following its purchase last year by Qatar's royal family.
Accompanied by classical music that morphed into Daft Punk's "Around the World", Chanel models took a turn around the world, literally, in grey plaid coats with upturned collars or military-styled coats with contrasting panels of peacock blue.
As if not to alienate one half of the world's population, Lagerfeld allowed a solitary male model to join the circuit.
The Fall/Winter 2013-2014 collection was heavy on black, as is typical for Chanel, but Lagerfeld added flickering bits of metallic weave into suit fabrics to add sheen.
Thigh-high boots and fuzzy cloche caps in electric turquoise and baby pink added a touch of modern cool.
Lagerfeld is praised for his ability, season after season, to rework a limited wardrobe of classic ideas developed by founder Coco Chanel - beautifully cut slim jackets, wool knit suits, cascades of pearls and black suits.
This time around Lagerfeld opened up knee-length A-line skirts at the front, adding a shorter panel for coverage that added geometric interest and a peek-a-boo feel.
But some of the stand-out looks were the simplest. A modest black wool dress was high on drama thanks to ruffles at the collar and elbows, while a black velvet dress was transformed with wide cuffs and a petticoat peeking out in pure ivory.
Lagerfeld himself did a turn around the circular catwalk to end the show. Might he have noticed, with one last glance at the globe, that Antarctica is yet to conquer?
"There's space left," he said.
At Valentino, Chiuri and Piccioli said their goal was to "interpret the essence of contemporary grace" via inspiration from the Flemish masters.
Indeed, many of the sumptuous yet elegantly simple dresses, with white lace collars or wide scooped necks, could have been pulled from a Vermeer or a Van Eyck, albeit with a lot more leg.
The design pair made liberal use of floral fabric resembling tapestry, black and cream alpaca and wool/silk blends, and innovatively used a thin band of transparent gauze to separate white collars from the bodices of dresses.
A showstopping ivory coat featured a dramatic hood pulled from a medieval monk's habit, and blue lace topped a cream background for a thigh-baring dress that evoked a Chinese vase.
Additional reporting By Johnny Cotton, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith