In-person events may have taken a pause, but this isn’t stopping designers from presenting collections that let us dream. We are living in a virtual world, and couture houses have adapted to this new reality. From Schiaparelli and Dior to Chanel and Giorgio Armani, brands are telling their stories via video, look books, and other digital channels. Ahead, we present the best of the season.

Fendi

Kim Jones executed a stellar debut as the artistic director of womenswear for Fendi with a Couture collection that walked on supermodels Kate Moss, Christie Turlington, and Naomi Campbell, and opened on Demi Moore. The sheer pearl lattice gowns, a dress that melds menswear tailoring and crystal wildflowers, and feminine suiting were inspired in part by the British sensibility of the Bloomsbury Group, of which Virginia Woolf served as one of its most famous members, as well as Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell’s art and interiors.

“I like how this family of people—and particularly these two pioneering sisters—moved things forward,” Jones said. “I admire the way that they lived their lives, the freedom that they created for themselves and the art that they left behind for the world.”

The inspiration was rounded out by Italian sculpture, and Fendi’s own archives, as well as the power of women overall and the Fendi sisters in particular. “Fendi represents artisanal quality of the highest order, and it is all about family,” Jones says. “It is in its third generation with a Fendi at its helm, and I am guest starring while bringing in the fourth,” Jones says. “Here, I am surrounded by strong, powerful women who I love and respect, and want to bring their energy into what I do.”—Kerry Pieri

Viktor & Rolf

Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren are fantasists through and through. For their spring 2021 couture collection, the design duo displayed an escape from reality, as an “antidote to doom scrolling.” It’s a message that other maisons promoted this season. But where those brands took a whimsical route with shows held at gilded halls and the Grand Palais, Viktor & Rolf’s presentation felt like a psychedelic trip.

At Het HEM, a former munition factory turned art and culture center on the outskirts of Amsterdam, models walked through a gritty space, outfitted in ensembles that melded rave culture and cotillions. To wit: The collection featured a stream of pastel tulle ball skirts that were paired with metallic bandeau tops encrusted with floral patches, crystal brooches in the shape of butterflies and birds, and sequin ribbons; as well as Victorian blouses with exaggerated shoulders that were matched with panties under fishnet stockings. The looks were accessorized with combat boots and a single fingerless glove that was either made with lace or satin.

The lineup indeed had a lost-and-found vibe, especially considering that the pieces were made from deadstock. Upcycling is a theme that the designers have used in the past (particularly with their spring 2020 collection), but they really pumped up the volume this season.—Barry Samaha

Valentino

Last season, Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli took couture to fantastical heights with models dressed in surreally proportioned white dresses suspended on trapezes in yards-long trains—one of which made a cameo recently during Jennifer Lopez’s Times Square New Year’s Eve performance. Though the models in today’s audience-less show filmed at the Roman Baroque palace Galleria Colonna wore towering platforms, the proceedings were a bit more down to earth, but no less magical for it.

Brilliant color was a through line—fuchsia, orange, fluorescent green, and something evocatively titled fraise red, which offered a fresh twist on the signature Valentino tone. Another common thread was the super-luxe turtlenecks in crepe and bouclé cashmere, which anchored godet skirts and some of the more wondrous experimentations with couture craft, like a perforated cape embellished with braids and bows. Piccioli has a knack for infusing dreaminess IRL, hence his recent collab with We’re Really Not Strangers. These clothes looked amazing on a runway and will look even better in the world. —Alison S. Cohn

Related article: Review Of Chanel Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2021

Armani Privé

At Palazzo Orsini, the home of Giorgio Armani’s atelier, a model walked down a mirror-lined gallery in a pearl-gray shimmering tweed jacket and gauzy trousers embroidered with an Art Deco design for the Italian designer’s Privé show. This first look typified his time-honoured MO: sharply tailored suits for ladies who lunch. He continued down this path with fitted velvet separates, gradually moving from daywear to evening dresses—and bolstering the colour palette along the way.

From a sapphire-blue velvet gown with satin bow tied at the neck to a richly embroidered seafoam-green slip to the electric-blue Fortuny pleated finale look, Armani offered a range of designs that are perfect for when the Oscars and the spring gala season are back in action. He did, after all, design the stunning number that Zendaya wore to the 2020 virtual Emmy Awards. —Barry Samaha

Chanel

Leave it to Chanel creative director Virginie Viard to make a show at the Grand Palais feel intimate. Dressed in all the intricate handcrafts of Chanel’s maisons d’art partners including feathers, camellias, embroidery, and lace, the models walked en masse down the Great Staircase and underneath arches constructed from fresh flowers. Viard explained in the show notes that the vibe she was going for was “a family celebration, a wedding.”

And indeed there was a hopeful sense of timeless clothes made for celebrating in the future post-vaccine world about the collection, which included a pale-pink dress featuring tiers of flounced crêpe georgette and a matching ruffled bolero, as well as a white daisy lace gown with a removable skirt perfect for cutting loose on the dance floor. Shoes included two-tone tango pumps with double straps and delicate gold booties featuring practical wedge heels. The bride, who closed the show on a majestic white horse, wore a long dress and train in ecru satin crêpe, embroidered by Lesage with strass and pearl butterflies. —Alison S. Cohn

Alexandre Vauthier

Alexandre Vauthier’s world is one big party, and he is the host with the most. For the spring 2021 couture season, the French designer presented a video of models dancing to Cerrone’s “Supernature” at the Paris nightclub-turned-theater Le Palace, dressed in looks that follow his penchant for ’80s styles.

Vauthier stalwarts include cropped boleros and blazers with linebacker shoulders, leather paperbag-waist trousers, slinky frocks with thigh-high slits, voluminous blouses with pleated ruffles, and, of course, piles and piles of sequins. The accessories match the girl-about-town vibe: knee-high metallic boots, bold crystal earrings, and glittering heeled sandals. This season, he added sparkling fringe dresses and sequin bell-bottom pants with ostrich feathers into the mix.

It may be some time before Vauthier fans can cut a rug in these looks (France, in particular, is set to go into another lockdown), but with his latest couture presentation, he continues the dream of one day partying into the wee hours. —Barry Samaha

Christian Dior

Maria Grazia Chiuri is a dream weaver of fairy tales, a designer whose collections often offer elements of fantasy. For her spring 2021 couture collection, the Dior creative director drew inspiration from tarot cards, bringing to life the mystic characters and symbols familiar from the now ubiquitous illustrated decks via a short film titled Le Château du Tarot.

Related article: Review of Dior Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2021

“Each card reflects some aspect, they were selected to tell a story,” Chiuri tells BAZAAR.com. “The Devil represents seduction in some way, actions that could be dangerous to your life. The gaps they go inside in the castle represent different aspects of their personality. She’s just a little bit confused. But then, she finds the right balance for life.”

Related article: An Exclusive Look At The Dior Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2020 Collection

Along with the Devil, who is dressed in a gold dress with a plunging neckline (seduction, indeed), the heroine encounters Justice, in a prim forest-green gown; the Fool, in a miniskirt and embroidered blouse with billowy sleeves; the Moon, in a razor-front earth-toned frock; the Pope, in a jacquard opera coat over a matching gown; and Death, in a periwinkle-blue sequined dress with a chain-mail veil.

“At this moment, we are all lost with our personal lives,” Chiuri says. “This attraction to magic can help us have hope for the future.” —Barry Samaha

Giambattista Valli

Giambattista Valli’s world is filled with tiers of tulle, silk petals, and mounds of taffeta. And he knows his Haute Couture clientele, who (at the moment) are predominantly based in Asia and the Middle East, and are big fans of Valli’s vibrant colours and flair for the opulent.

Related article: Haute Couture Fashion Week: 10 Best Looks from Giambattista Valli Fall 2020

This season, the Italian designer gave his women what they want. Valli sculpted mini, midi, and trailing shapes of tulle and tiered taffeta galore. Looks that stood out included a voluminous cream-colored tulle skirt with a bust modeled after a bouquet of red roses, a sweeping white robe with flowing ostrich feathered sleeves, and a frothy pink tulle frock with a train for days—and that was just the start. As a parallel to his love for detail in shape and scale, Valli’s fashion film for the collection featured his designs alongside 360-degree shots of Spanish architecture.

The hair, too, was larger than life, adorned with silk ribbons and flowers, and sculpture in its own right—think Chinese courtesans in the imperial court or Imelda Marcos, but much bigger. Cumbersome as all this may seem, Valli is a master at bringing lightness to all his drama. We anticipate his clientele are eager for the parties, galas, and weddings to come, where they showcase his latest range of volume-play in motion.—Carrie Goldberg

Schiaparelli

The spring 2021 couture season follows two unforgettable looks from Daniel Roseberry for Schiaparelli: First, Kim Kardashian West’s Incredible Hulk–inspired holiday dress, which was composed of a glittering green breastplate and draped satin skirt, paired with the brand’s signature door knocker earrings. Second, Lady Gaga in a surreally large architectural gown for her performance of the national anthem at the 2021 inauguration, worn with an equally massive dove brooch, meant to symbolise peace.

Related article: Haute Couture Fashion Week: Schiaparelli Fall 2020

The Texas-born designer’s knack for redefining what one expects women to wear (and when) was evident in this collection. Roseberry’s couture isn’t fragile; adjectives like frothy, frilly, and dainty aren’t in the designer’s vernacular. That fresh take meant fewer gowns and more separates such as trousers, bomber jackets, bodysuits featuring motifs, and techniques that were no less artful, but far less conventionally pretty. Corsetry was translated into warrior-like breastplates that honoured the female form, and a fuchsia minidress went as far as to define muscular arms with toned biceps and triceps.

The Texas-born designer’s knack for redefining what one expects women to wear (and when) was evident in this collection. Roseberry’s couture isn’t fragile; adjectives like frothy, frilly, and dainty aren’t in the designer’s vernacular. That fresh take meant fewer gowns and more separates such as trousers, bomber jackets, bodysuits featuring motifs, and techniques that were no less artful, but far less conventionally pretty. Corsetry was translated into warrior-like breastplates that honoured the female form, and a fuchsia minidress went as far as to define muscular arms with toned biceps and triceps.

There was also streamlined eveningwear. Read: not poofy. Some detailed the body, while others were designed to allow a woman to move and breathe freely, including a pink pleated blouson gown held up by earrings-as-straps. The jewelry were no less bold—think gold fingernail rings, nose ring closures, gold tooth accents, and a minaudiére designed to honor the house’s signature padlock. —Carrie Goldberg

Iris van Herpen

Technology is often at the core of Iris van Herpen’s collections. In past seasons, she explored the work of graphic artist M.C. Escher’s mathematically inspired lithographs and the kinetic sculptures of Anthony Howe. For the spring 2021 couture season, however, the Dutch designer looked to the natural world for inspiration.

Related article: Review of Iris van Herpen Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2021 Collection

In a collection titled Roots of Rebirth, van Herpen surveyed fungi and other organic forms found below and slightly above the earth’s surface. A purple column dress, for example, featured large silver paillettes that resembled a cluster of mushrooms. A flirty satin mullet frock in burnt umber showcased pleats that mirrored tree roots. An ombré mid-length organza dress with billowy shoulders echoed the shape and colors of fungi under a microscope. And a number of gowns highlighted hand-embroideries in the shape of mycelium that then fanned out into her signature tentacles.

For van Herpen, science and fashion go hand in hand. And with this stunning lineup, she visualizes the organisms under our feet, the natural beauty that often goes unnoticed, but perhaps should not. —Barry Samaha

This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR US