There’s nothing to be seen on this particular strip of highway along US Rote 90 in western Texas. The nearest city is Marfa, TX, and that’s almost 40 miles away. There’s big open sky and big open land and, aside from the telephone poles and the road itself, nothing much in the way of the man-made. But then, a little box of a building appears on the horizon, standing alone on the endless desert. Is it a police station? A pit stop?
It’s none of those things. It’s probably the last thing you’d expect to see here. It is, in fact, a Prada store. Through the windows, a collection of shoes and handbags bearing the designer’s name and logo peer back out.
Named Prada Marfa, it’s not actually a store; the door doesn’t even open. It’s an art installation by artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. It’s not officially endorsed by Prada, but the company’s owner and chairwoman, Miuccia Prada, gave the artists permission to use the logo, and even went so far as to pick out the collection of shoes and bags contained inside. (They’re from the fall/winter 2005 collection, if you must know.)
The building is a 15-by-25-foot adobe block, made of completely biodegradable materials. The original idea was that the structure, and the pricey items inside, would deteriorate with time and slowly be absorbed back into the natural landscape. The idea was that it was a critique of consumerism and the luxury goods industry–possibly ironic, considering this critique cost $80,000 to make. The effect, though, of this high-end brand in the middle of the desert, is amusing and slightly unsettling at the same time. It’s like where people would go shopping in a David Lynch movie.
It was never meant to be repaired, but had to be after it was broken into and the goods stolen only a few days after it opened in 2005. To discourage further theft, the windows were replaced with stronger ones, and it was restocked with undesirable items. Though they look good from the window, the handbags have no bottoms and the shoes are all right-footed.
Despite the setback, the Prada “store” has drawn thousands of tourists since it opened. Even if Prada is okay with it, the Texas Department of Transportation is less than thrilled. They’ve classified the piece as “illegal outdoor advertising” as of 2013, because it sits on unlicensed land next to a federal highway without a permit, while bearing a brand name. This makes it in violation of the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, and the installation could, on those grounds, be removed. As of now, there’s no word on what the department will decide, so for the time being, this weird, eerie piece of art will stay, as it has for nearly a decade, offering its luxury accessories to the empty desert.