For release Sunday, Sept. 30 () -

For release Sunday, Sept. 30 ()


(On The Runway)

c.2012 New York Times News Service

PARIS Crowdedness is a reality of modern life (I tell myself as we chug across the Seine, or the morning salute of car horns begins outside my hotel window), and so it is in fashion.

''Nice sharing with you!" a friend said, with irony, after a show as three of us got up from a space meant for two. In Milan, my colleague Eric Wilson took a photo during the Ferragamo show of ushers forming a human chain to hold back standing guests.

The number of street photographers outside shows in New York and Europe has grown by tenfold, at least, in the last few years, though many are probably students and tourists. There was a time, maybe a decade ago, when we complained, wistfully, "Where have all the groupies gone?"

Of course, back then, the objective was to get into the shows by sneaking past a hapless usher or using a fake invitation. Now, with live-streams and beefed-up security and a more pervasive atmosphere of exclusivity that restricts even editors, the groupies dedicate themselves to the scene outside the shows. After Lanvin on Thursday night, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, a young woman came up to me and asked if I would tell her where the Dior show on Friday was going to be held.

''I've looked on the Internet, and I can't find it," she said.

What the woman will see outside the Dior show, in a tent near the Invalides, I can't say, but I told her where to find it.

Editors and buyers have been talking about how much better the shows are this season. The favorite explanation is the presumed rivalry between Hedi Slimane of Saint Laurent and Raf Simons of Dior. I doubt either designer cares that much, not at this point in their careers, but it makes for something to talk about, like "Monday Night Football."

Anyway, what about the influence of Phoebe Philo at Celine and Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga? They're not exactly chopped liver. Alber Elbaz had a fantastic show for Lanvin, full of tuxedos and sexy black dresses.

Yes, maybe with the dynamic shift at Dior and Saint Laurent, along with increased competitive pressures in the luxury-goods business, people have stepped up their game. The best collections strive to do something new in fashion or refine their style.

Beyond rivalries, designers are influenced by other designers. Rei Kawakubo seemed a big influence in Milan. But here's another influence on the current season: Miuccia Prada's spring 2011 collection, with its wide stripes and monkey prints. It's practically a hidden gem. Those rounded shapes and uniform-style blouses we've been seeing? Miuccia did them in that show, as well as some of the "new" suit styles for spring. It is a crowded world.