The desert wears Prada.
In 2005, there were no Prada stores in the entire state of Texas, not even in the big cities like Houston or Dallas.
So it came as some surprise when on October 1st, 2005, a giant plaster, glass, paint, and aluminum art installation appeared on a lone stretch of land along U.S. 90, 26 miles outside the town of Marfa, Texas.
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, a Scandinavian artist duo, were the creative forces behind the art installation. The design, called Prada Marfa, was stocked with real Prada handbags and shoes from the Prada fall/winter 2005 collection, provided by Miuccia Prada herself.
She also gave the artists permission to use the Prada name and trademark in their exhibit. The exhibit plays upon the minimalist design of real Prada stores, with a select number of shoes and handbags displayed in the windows. At first glance, it may even look at a real store. But there is one very big difference: the exhibit has no working door.
“It was meant as a critique of the luxury goods industry, to put a shop in the middle of the desert. Prada was sympathetic to the idea of being criticized” Elmgreen stated in an 2013 interview. Prada Marfa is part of a broader movement of site-specific art, in which the context of where it is placed is just as important – if not more so – than the work itself.
The fact that the exhibit exists in the middle of the desert in Texas is part of its artistic significance. The artists never intended to maintain the installation, so that it would eventually fade, fall into disrepair, and once again become part of the natural land that it inhabits, making a statement about the impermeability of fashion and criticizing consumerist culture.
However, not every resident of Texas appreciated the artwork, or seemed to understand the intended critique of the designer goods on display. On the night after the exhibit was installed, vandals broke in and stole the expensive handbags and shoes.
Despite their original intent to leave it be, the artists were forced to go back and repair the damage, and replace the stolen items with more Prada items.
This time around, however, the handbags on display were outfitted with security monitors on the inside that would alert authorities if someone tried to move them to prevent further theft. Since then, it has become a popular tourist spot, with people from all across the country coming to see the strange Prada store in the middle of nowhere. It has even become custom for visitors to leave behind business cards at the site, a way to mark that they have been there.
Unfortunately, in March of 2014, it was vandalized again. Although nothing was stolen, the entire structure was painted blue, fake TOMS advertisements were hung on the outside, and a manifesto was hung onto the walls outside with the bizarre message:
“TOMS Marfa will bring greater inspiration to consumer Americans to give all they have to developing nations that suffer disease starvation and corruption … So long as you buy TOMS shoes, and endorse Jesus Christ as your savior, welcoming the ‘white’ him into your heart. So help you God, otherwise, youre damned to hell … Welcome to your Apocalypse?”
Police eventually arrested a 32-year old artist named Joe Magnano in connection with the vandalism, and he was found guilty and forced to pay a $1,000 fine and $10,700 in restitution to Prada Marfa. Once again, the artists were forced to repaint and repair the installation.
Now, after over a decade, the structure still stands in the Texas desert, having thus far withstood thefts, vandals, and the natural elements. It has since been reclassified as a museum, with Prada Marfa the sole exhibit, standing alone in the desert, slowly becoming one with the landscape.
After learning about Prada Marfa, check out the surprising history of high heels. Then, read about Evelyn Nesbit and the surprisingly sordid history of Madison Square Garden.