"Prada Presents: Il Palazzo. A Palace of Role Play."

If Miuccia Prada's invitation suggested a grand theatrical event, the setting confirmed it. The Prada show space had been reconfigured as a huge court, laid with a massive 20- by 35-meter carpet in red, white, and black. Later in the show, a parade of stars—including Gary Oldman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Jamie Bell—would walk that red carpet rather than the one that was rolling out at the same time in Los Angeles for the Golden Globes. A part in a Prada performance clearly carries enough clout to draw marquee names. But then, this particular performance was something so extraordinary that it would surely seem irresistible to actors who might feel they've already done it all.

"A parody of male power," Miuccia declared backstage. The power was palpable. That giant carpeted red square (which in itself seemed like a conscious echo) felt like the flooring in a conference hall in one of the palaces where cabals of diplomats and military men once met to decide the world's fate at a turning point in history. The formality of the collection offered exactly the sort of clothes you could imagine them wearing: double-breasted suits buttoned high, astrakhan-collar coats, pinstriped jackets with a flower in the buttonhole. The men who wore such things would surely have valets, a point that was made clear when models stripped to the kind of crisp white cotton underwear that an Edwardian gentleman's gentleman would have recognized.

But this wasn't simple sartorial historicism. Remember, this was a parody of power. So nothing was as it seemed. Formal clothes were actually cut from denim; what appeared from afar as wool barathea or mohair was really cotton. Look closely at the ornate, baroque patterning on shirts and you'd see rows of American football helmets or feathered Native American headdresses. Tailored topcoats woven in jacquard looked more like silk bathrobes. And the formal white-tie neckgear was a mock turtle on a tee. An awful lot of ingenious thought had gone into making a statement about the emptiness of dressing to impress, while, at the same time, producing clothes that will entice men to do exactly that.

This Chinese-box ingenuity carried through to the last moment of the show, when nine professionals, richly rewarded for their role playing, paraded one by one around the red square, "as if following a secret script," according to the accompanying notes. If you accept that actors play archetypes, then each of them represented a particular kind of man. It wasn't only the accompanying soundtrack of Michael Nyman's music from The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover that cued Tim Roth as a gangster or Adrien Brody as a dandy. Gary Oldman was particularly impressive as the capo di tutti capi, in his breast pocket a pair of red-lensed sunglasses just like the ones he wore in his performance as Dracula. "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Shakespeare said it first, but Miuccia Prada showed it best for Fall 2012.