If you've ever watched Gossip Girl, you may have noticed the extensive art collection in Lily Van Der Woodsen's apartment in the Upper East Side. One of the most noticeable pieces is a giant white canvas that says PRADA on the center. Maybe you were too engulfed in trying to figure out who "Gossip Girl" really was to give the painting much importance, but the piece is not actually advertising for PRADA at all—in fact, it's advertising a location 1,837 miles away from Manhattan.
Throughout six seasons of Gossip Girl, I honestly thought the Prada shop in Marfa was a real Prada store in the middle of nowhere. I put it at the top of my bucket list of places to shop, but then I finished Gossip Girl, moved on to a different series and forgot about Marfa entirely. Then, one day when I was redoing my bedroom at home, my mom brought in a giant white canvas that says PRADA in the center—just like Lily Van Der Woodsen's—and I remembered Marfa. And when I finally got around to researching the small West Texas town, I realized the little 15’x25’ Prada "store" was actually an art installation done by Elmgreen & Dragset in 2005. The installation features Prada designer shoes and purses, all hand chosen by Miuccia Prada herself. The simple nature of the installation in the middle of nowhere Texas mimics the simplicity of Prada’s displays, and, like all art pieces, is open to interpretation.
The 1.6-square-mile town of Marfa (population 1,700) is known for trendy, contemporary pieces and artists, who use the wide-open spaces around them for their art, such as the Prada installation. Foundations keep Marfa’s culture rich by hosting open houses where they invite artists from all across the nation to view the collections in Marfa.
Marfa’s unique art, however, is not the only thing that makes Marfa so special—and the Prada Marfa Installation is not the only reason to visit. The Marfa Lights, for instance, have attracted curious visitors since they were first observed in 1957. On clear nights, "ghost" lights can be seen when facing southwest, orbs that twinkle in the distance above the desert floor, never staying in the same place for long before evaporating as quickly as they appeared. Though the mystery of the Marfa Lights has been more or less solved, UFO hunters and fans of the paranormal still trek to West Texas for a glimpse of the surreal.
Marfa has also been gaining attention for its food scene, which runs the gamut from food truck fare at Food Shark or the Boyz2Men Taco Trailer all the way to high-end dining at Cochineal and LaVenture. Restaurants that grow their own food on-site, like Cochineal, or which offer big-eye tuna tartare in the middle of the desert, like LaVenture, are excessively rare in West Texas—as rare as a Prada store in the middle of nowhere.
And some people, of course, simply come to Marfa to relax. Lodging such as the historic Hotel Paisano or the determinedly modern Hotel Saint George (which boasts its own, well-stocked on-site bookstore) offer a location smack in the middle of downtown Marfa, making for easy access to the town's many galleries, restaurants and spas, while other sites afford a view of nothing more than the sprawling scrubby desert and blanket of stars above. If that sounds more your speed, try El Cosmico, a 21-acre "nomadic hotel and campground" that offers among its accommodations 10 renovated vintage trailers, 15 safari tents and scout tents, three Sioux-style tepees and two Mongolian yurts.
Maybe the thought of visiting a tiny town in the middle of nowhere with beautiful culture and unbelievable phenomena only crossed your mind after a few viewings of Gossip Girl, or maybe it's somewhere you've always meant to visit and haven't quite made that eight-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston yet. Whatever your reason for wanting to make the trek to West Texas, just remember: It's still a shorter drive for Houstonians than it is for New Yorkers.