PARIS — They are furiously sewing up the world’s most expensive dresses — and they expect to parade them before full audiences in just a few weeks.

Downplaying the risk of canceled trans-Atlantic flights and the specter of heightened security checks at airports, couture houses said they expect full and regular attendance by clients and editors during couture week here, Jan. 19 to Jan. 22.

“It’s business as usual,” a spokesman for Versace said Tuesday. “We expect the same attendance as every season.”

The sentiment was echoed by representatives of other houses polled by WWD, including Chanel, Christian Lacroix and Emanuel Ungaro.

Indeed, many houses are planning two shows this season to accommodate sizable audiences in smaller venues. Chanel plans to welcome about 1,200 guests —roughly half press, half clients — to the Hotel Bourbon, while Givenchy and Ungaro expect to show in the intimacy of their couture salons, on Avenue George V and Avenue Montaigne, respectively.

“For the moment, all our clients supposed to come to Paris have confirmed — unless all flights are canceled,” said a Lacroix spokeswoman, noting: “In any event, some of them take private jets.”

At least one couture house is banking on increased attendance. Charles-Edouard Barthes, managing director of Scherrer, said he expects 20 to 25 Americans this season, compared with only eight in attendance last July. He said a more worrisome factor for him was the surging euro, which is inflating prices for American buyers. “Even in couture, there is a psychological barrier,” he noted.

However, clients seemed primed to shop.

“I’m definitely coming. I haven’t heard of anyone canceling,” said client Marjorie Raein of New York. “I like the January shows the most. It’s the best time.”

Houston socialite Becca Carson Thrash said she’s also planning to board the 11-hour direct flight to Paris in a few weeks. “I’m really looking forward to it,” she said. “Call me an incurable optimist, but I don’t have any apprehensions whatsoever.”

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.