At 11 p.m., precisely two hours after his official starting time, Marc Jacobs surprised his audience by running out onto his Stefan Beckman-designed set for a quick bow. Next came the music, Ravel's Boléro, and out filed the models in finale formation. Then here was the first girl (or rather the last, because by now it was clear this extraordinary show was unspooling backward, starting with look 56 and running down to one). She wore a "silly-string guipure gown," her satin under-things peeking out and her heels perched on top of her "too-small pumps." Behind her, an image of the model in nothing but the bra and panties she wore underneath her outfit was projected on two large screens.

Jacobs collaborated with the video artist Charles Atlas to create the film that played simultaneously with the show. They shot the piece Sunday evening, and Atlas spent the whole night in the editing booth finishing it. As for the clothes and accessories, they were just as off-kilter and knock-your-socks-off as the production, with a bonkers surrealist streak. Trompe l'oeil underwear decorated georgette slipdresses, the heels of pumps protruded not from the heel at all but from the ball of the foot, and three-dimensional quilted leather bags were grafted onto square totes. Transparency was a key theme, too: Cashmere sweaters were inset with sheer panels at the waist, and reconstructed black bugle-bead evening dresses came suspended from their nude linings. Gimmicky? You bet. But also fascinating. If you want normal or tame, you're going to have to look on a different runway. Even the suits came with hip-high slits—though, this being Jacobs, the effect was just as often gawky and awkward as it was provocative.

So what was it all about? With most of the models in varying stages of dishabille, Jacobs appeared to be saying something conceptual about the process of getting dressed—or getting undressed—but he was typically vague backstage. "It's cartoon versions of all the women I know—conservative types, vamps, everybody," he allowed. From the looks of two number-emblazoned team-jersey T-shirt dresses that appeared on his runway, there are footballers' wives in the designer's inner circle along with all of those rockers and artists. One thing's for certain: He's moved on from last season's bourgeois austerity. This sublime performance was about sex, which is one of the reasons why we couldn't look away.