Night Out: Man's Spiritual Journey Begins With Prada

There’s a joke about attending the opening of an envelope in all this. But in my defense, it was a sturdy matte-black envelope embossed with Prada’s logo. And it was addressed directly to me — apparently straight from Miuccia herself in Milan! I couldn’t just toss it out like it was the Lillian Vernon catalog.

Bad example. I keep the Lillian Vernon catalogs.

But, in general, I throw out blanket mailings for “events” that are thinly disguised efforts to get press for some new product. This was different, though. What if some awesome person was sending me a booklet of Prada gift certificates?

No gift certificates, it turned out. But it was an invitation to a Prada event, one that promised a movie would be screened — a movie about Prada’s new men’s fragrance. Over the past weeks I’ve watched films about talking Chihuahuas and people being vivisected by deranged moralists, so I figure a movie about a perfume isn’t so totally out of the question for an evening’s diversion. Given my druthers, I’ll always choose pajamas and cocoa over standing around outside at night with talky people. But this seemed too weird and possibly too stupid to pass up.

I arrive wearing clothes designed to downplay my fatness. Black Dickies, which just barely fit at the waist now — and that make me feel slight gut pain, automatically dusting instant chic upon me, way more than if I were totally comfortable — some scuffed black Red Wing boots, black shirt from Target over a black Darkthrone T-shirt. Black is what fashion people wear to look skinny and to show everyone how serious they are about fashion. I just want to be unlooked at, since I know not one single soul at this thing and since my so-called spouse with super-effed-up priorities bailed on me at the last minute just so he could stay home, selfishly fold laundry and watch that shallow Rachel Maddow.

“Should you be wearing fragrance?” the husband asks, as I walk into a tiny, tastefully diffuse cloud of Comme des Garçons “Garage” (notes of grease, tar, gasoline, rubber and motor oil — for when you want to be left totally alone). “What if someone spritzes you with the new Prada man-scent? It will clash.”

“I will not be date-spritzed,” I say. “My body. No means no.”

And he’s wrong anyway. No one is here to atomizerly attack me. In fact, it’s kind of a small crowd in the courtyard of the Hammer. I stand alone, leafing through a museum brochure, checking out women’s shoes to see who’s actually wearing Pradas. I see maybe two pair, which seems right. I assume that sporting the label’s label to that label’s event is like wearing a band T-shirt to see that band’s show. What I do notice are lots of women wearing really perfectly smart dresses, the kind Nina Garcia would call “impeccable.” I wander around hoping to eavesdrop on conversations and smell people, but I smell nothing except my own “Garage” and I hope my small amount isn’t packing too much wallop. There are no celebrity perfume enthusiasts here that I can make out, unless you count the one L Word cast member whose name I don’t know. In my universe she’s that Eve Harringtonish bitch “Adele” who totally stole Les Girls from Jenny through manipulation, sabotage and sexy-powers. I’d go tell her how much I dig that trash-ass cable pleasure, but my No. 1 Los Angeles rule is never talk to those people. It serves no one. What if they’re jerks? That would ruin my future enjoyment of their show.

Tiny amounts of food are served, which is 100 percent more than I assumed we’d get. I just figured there’d be trays of cigarettes on pedestals. But I eat caviar and salmon on a spongelike, quarter-sized pancake, tiny Mondrian-esque squares of cucumber and watercress and spicy tuna tartare in sesame-miso cones. The last one is great because it’s like I ordered it from a tiny, shrunken Baskin-Robbins where they serve only scoops of raw fish. Also, there’s kiwi juice. Weird. Whenever a server walks by I grab more of everything. This is an excellent dinner. Now tomorrow when someone asks, I can go, “Last night I dined on caviar with Prada people. What did you do? Oh, really? You sat around your dirty apartment and got high? Well, I had caviar.”

The crowd assembles in the museum’s Billy Wilder Theater and I learn that I was somewhat led astray. There’s no feature-length film about Prada’s “Infusion D’Homme” (notes of vetiver, iris and Somalia). Maybe I read the invite wrong. There are, however, nine short films that were made in association with the fragrance. They’re more like commercials, really. The best one shows a Hindu god dabbing on some of the stuff, then a bunch of ladies in saris get their noses entranced from afar and dance their way to him, performing a gee-you-smell-terrific ballet around the guy. After that, some warriors equipped with Prada bows and arrows smell him, too, and it makes them lay down their weapons. Caption on the screen: “Man’s Spiritual Journey Begins with Prada.” It might be the greatest perfume commercial I’ve ever seen. The other best one is of some male model in a parking structure being slowly, happily, somewhat sensually asphyxiated by a car exhaust spewing Infusion D’Homme. Prada-monoxide.

Then Academy Award–winning film editor Pietro Scalia screens his own short film, a “remix” of the nine we just saw; there’s a question-and-answer period that I forget while it’s happening. Finally come the gift bags. And that’s that. I stand in the courtyard again, wondering what makes people attend events like these, which are essentially about not much at all. And I could only think of one answer, besides the obvious one about artists using commerce to promote their own idiosyncratic ideas about life, and commerce using artists to make me feel like I’m not participating in commerce at all. The better, more immediate answer is simply that you can’t do stuff like this in Lubbock, Texas. (That’s just where I used to live — if you like, you can insert your own former swarming-with-hicks locality in place of mine.) It might be inherently shallow to put on an ironed shirt, drive across town, pay for parking, eat delicate fish-miso cones, watch a bunch of arty commercials about a perfume, listen to the directors discuss their product-placement vision and then not say out loud — at least, not to the people around you — that this advertising-as-cultural-event isn’t important. But almost everything people do for entertainment is shallow: eating at Sizzler, watching the talking Chihuahua movie, basketball games, drinking in bars. So why not enjoy watching some pretty perfume commercials in a dark theater? Why not enjoy seeing other people get dressed up to do the same thing? I mean, do you get fed caviar and kiwi juice at those other places? Do you get a free bottle of men’s perfume you can move on eBay when you’re done? That’s right. The answer is no. And I made twenty bucks on my spiritual journey already.