Prada's Desert Home

(This is one of four stories about the unique sites to be seen along the 37-mile stretch of Highway 90 through the Chihuahuan Desert from Marfa, Texas, to Prada Marfa.)


There’s a long deserted stretch of desert Highway 90 heading northwest out of Marfa, Texas, that is traveled by hundreds of visitors to the area every year.


A sign on the outskirts of Marfa warns travelers there are no services for the next 70 miles, with good reason. The only thing remotely classifying as civilization along the way is the town of Valentine.


I use the term “town” loosely. The sign greeting drivers on the town’s edge posts its population at 217 but the latest census places it at 67 and I suspect it’s dropping from there.


I will, however, add that I’m told the Valentine Texas Bar is a fun little roadside place to stop in. I was passing through during the morning hours so can neither confirm nor deny those reports.

Photo of author standing outside Prada Marfa.
My not ready for the runway pose outside Prada Marfa. **

So what, you might ask, is the attraction that lures so many visitors into the middle of a hot dusty desert? Well, Prada of course. More specifically, Prada Marfa, a very realistic, though smaller, facsimile of a Prada store you might find in any big city across the country.


I need to digress for just a moment and add I was surprised to discovered Prada Marfa is only one roadside attraction along the 37 miles between it and Marfa. There’s also James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor, a memorial to the site of a tragic Mexican village massacre and, as if that’s not enough, there’s a blimp randomly floating in the light blue sky.


It’s all just way too much to pack into a single post so I’ll focus this one on the main attraction, and devote two or three future posts on the others.


Prada Marfa truly has been visited by thousands of people, all the way from famous celebrities to average Alices and Alans like me.


It’s so popular it was even featured in an episode of The Simpsons! Sadly, I haven’t been able to find an extended clip but two short, four-second, ones can be found here:


The Simpsons: Prada in the Middle of Nowhere

and

The Simpsons: 37 Miles to My Destiny


In the first clip you hear Marge Simpson asking why there’s a Prada store in the middle of nowhere. She’s not exaggerating, it truly is the middle of nowhere. The store is just one lonely building, within yards of the highway, and with nothing but desert for as far as the eye can see around it.

Photo of fence loaded with padlocks with Chihuahuan Desert  heading off into background.
The fence behind Prada Marfa is loaded with padlocks from prior visitors. The view looks out into the Chihuahuan Desert. **

There is so little traffic along that stretch I stood on the highway’s center line taking photos for long periods of time without a vehicle in site.


I’m sure you know by now you can’t do any shopping there. There’s no salesperson and the door doesn’t open. It’s an art installation. Take a look inside the store’s large windows and you’ll find real Prada bags and shoes from the famous brand’s 2005 collection, the year the artwork was first unveiled.


The work was commissioned by Ballroom Marfa, an art studio and incubator in Marfa, and the brainchild of artists Elmgreen & Dragset. Made of adobe bricks and plaster, the installation is meant as a criticism of commercialism and modern culture.


Vandalism does occasionally occur at the site even though there are large cameras quite obviously mounted around the “store.” For obvious reasons, it’s in the middle of a desert, the interior is a bit dusty and one window was cracked when I was there, but overall the building is well maintained by Ballroom Marfa and remains in good condition.

Photo through Prada Marfa store window of racks of high heels and purses.
A peek inside Prada Marfa. Yep those are really Prada high heels and bags.**

As you walk around the sides and back of the building you’ll see countless padlocks adorning the chain link fence, left behind by visitors. Though many can be looked at as “locks of love” I hesitate to call them all that, considering the number devoted to beer and other random thoughts. Having said that, I can certainly identify with loving beer, so who am I to question whether or not they are all locks of love.


Prada Marfa was very nearly shuttered by the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2013 when it was declared an illegal roadside advertisement.


The DOT instituted new regulations at that time, following construction of another installation along the same stretch of Highway 90, this one closer to Marfa, by Playboy. Yes, that Playboy. That installation featured the Playboy bunny logo and was intended as a marketing gimmick, to draw attention to Playboy.


It took a year of haggling but the folks at Ballroom Marfa were able to establish that Prada Marfa was truly an art installation, not a marketing ploy, and it has survived ever since. The Playboy installation did not.


There’s a good history and more information about Prada Marfa available on Ballroom Marfa’s website


And yes, I know it seems silly to drive 37 miles out into the desert, and 37 miles back to Marfa, just to see a fake Prada store but why not? If you ever find yourself out in far west Texas near the Mexican border, it’s just one of those places you have to go to if, for no other reason than to say, I’ve seen that!


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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.

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