Maybe the devil wears Prada. But Dana wearing Prada brings out the devil in my husband.
I had heard of some near-mythical Prada outlet outside Florence. I know the Gap outlet outside Florence (Kentucky) gets my retail adrenaline going – jeans 2 for $12.99! But I couldn’t pinpoint an actual location of this supposed dreamland of cut-price couture, and besides, I didn’t know when we’d have time on our visit to Tuscany to squeeze in a designer shopping spree. Too much wine to taste and food to eat! What would I do at a Prada outlet anyway? Most days my idea of designer is Isaac Mizrahi for Target.
So we proceeded with all our plans – including hiring a driver/guide for a day to convey the four of us (Brian, me and friends Holly and Chas) on a wine-tasting extravaganza. After too many hours spent searching for an affordable and well-reviewed guide we finally chose Luca of www.hillsandroads.com. He arrived at our villa near Greve in Chianti nice and early and we set out for our planned day of winery visits and a farmhouse lunch. All was well with the world. Luca drove us through a panorama of olive tree gilded hills studded with dramatic lines of marching cypresses while we laughed and talked.
Then it happened. Without taking his eyes off the narrow windy road in front of us he said to Holly and me, “Would you like to stop at the Prada outlet?” (To this day Brian doesn’t believe we didn’t set this up.) Before Holly and I could gasp in paroxysms of glee Luca turned to see Brian sitting next to him in the front seat. “You are killing me with your eyes!” he said. Brian had indeed turned an arctic blue look at our genial guide. But no matter. The offer was made. I had an ugly travel bag. We were going to Prada, winery visits we’d been waiting months for be damned.
We drove way, waaay out into the country, finally arriving at a factory. The Prada factory, if couture can be said to come from a place as mundane as a factory. Around back we drove and parked by the rows of buses. Holly and I leaped out of the van, my exhilaration only slightly dampened by Brian’s glowering countenance. (I might add here that we *were* paying Lucca by the hour. Paying him a good deal more than any of us earn at work in an hour I should say.)
We dropped the men off at the bar (known to us Americans as a coffee shop) cleverly provided by Prada next to the outlet store. “I need only 15 minutes I swear!” I promised Brian, nearly pantting with anticipation.
Holly and I dashed off tossing “be right backs” over our shoulders, and took our numbers. Yep, one takes a number for admittance to the store. It wasn’t crazily busy yet so we went right in. Evidently when lines form security limits the number of shoppers admitted a time. Holly and I restrained ourselves enough to enter with some semblance of dignity, quickly lost when we say how much the Prada shoes were discounted (here’s something else I might point out – even at discounts like 80% off these things were *still* more expensive than my usual accessories from Target et al.)
The clock was ticking. My discount designer induced euphoria spun me in dizzy loops around the women’s part of the store. I had only a few minutes to choose my goodies. It’s a little fuzzy in my mind (embarrassment at my greedy and materialistic reaction to Big Name Brand, maybe?) but I think I recall Holly and I locking elbows and giggling like demented children. I hit the shoes first. Row after row of gleaming artwork meant to sheath the most elegant and wealthy of feet now presented themselves as possibilities for my rather pedestrian paws. There was no time to dilly. I seized a sweet pair of black heeled sandals ornamented with the Prada triangle and approached a cool and sophisticated sales staff. “What size do you wear?” she asked, even her Italian accent dripping with hip. I fumbled for some Italian but gave up. “36 I think,” I replied and she glided away to bring the box to me.
The vision of style returned with two shoes. I rolled up my Banana Republic khakis, removed my serviceable no-nonsense black boots and thick cushiony travel socks to expose my winter pallid and embarrassed-looking feet. It felt almost a sacrilege to put my unpedicured toes into the graceful little shoes. But I crammed them on in and promenaded about. “Yes, please, I’ll take them,” I said decisively, as if buying Prada shoes were a matter of no great import. The beauty looked down at her own feet for a moment, trying, I suppose to think of how to be kind. Or not.
“They are different sizes, signora, which do you wish?”
I tried not to visibly cringe, but really, what *do* you do when you’ve just made such an arse of yourself? I picked a shoe, showed her my number and moved to handbags where I caught up with Holly. Our 15 minutes were probably up but I didn’t see any husbands looming on the horizon so I took a quick inventory of the bags. Even at outlet prices I couldn’t bring myself to pay the price of most of them. Some sanity returned to my Prada-addled head. If I wouldn’t drop $300 on a purse in Macy’s why should it be any different here? My reason battled with my love of a bargain, inherited from my mother. How many times in your life can you buy a $2,000 handbag for $300, the Prada devil on my shoulder whispered in a sultry Italian accent. I pictured the look on Brian’s face when I showed him the receipt. The devil departed.
Then I saw an adorable little bag – perfect for travel. I thought about the hideous Travelon bag stowed away in the van. This happy little Prada bag was khaki canvas with a jaunty red stripe announcing its pedigree, it had two pockets in the front (one for digital camera one for cell), a roomy zippered compartment to hold cash, lipstick and tiny camcorder, and a hidden zipper along the back perfect for storing the passport and valuables against my person when the bag was slung across me. And it was only a little past the 100 euro mark I had mentally set as the cutoff. I had to have it. The Prada outlet affliction of avarice had me firmly in its hold. I took the bag and my number to the staff person in that alcove and promptly got in line to pay before I could do any more damage. (The way this works is you show your shopper number to the staff so they can deliver your package to the payment desk.) Holly, meanwhile was bouncing around like a 4 year old mainlining Mountain Dew and Reeses Cups before finally getting in another of the long lines. And then – oh no – I saw Angry Eyes McMahan. Brian had entered the sanctuary. Arms crossed, wide shoulders firmly set, he leveled a gaze at me that could fell a buffalo. I looked at Holly for support. She chose that moment to squeal, “I want a bag like yooouuuuurs!” and dash off, leaving her place in the queu. I wouldn’t look at Brian but I could certainly feel him looking at me. At some point he must have left because I found him in the bar after I’d paid and dutily taken all my VAT refund paraphernalia (in five years of trips to Europe it was the first time I’d qualified for a refund on taxes).
Luca was enthralled with my purchases. Sadly, Brian and Chas less so. When Holly finally appeared carrying one shopping bag Chas elbowed Brian – “I *love* my wife,” he said, “she only has one bag.” I tried to hide my grin. Holly’s large backpack style purse cost more than my shoes and bag combined. But they were newlyweds. I kept my mouth shut.
We did finally make it to one winery that day. Lunch at Mama Stephania’s farmhouse took most of the day following the outlet, and when we did visit the winery it was not that fantastic anyway. And Holly realized 45 minutes after leaving the winery that she’d left her camera there, requiring a backtrack. We should have just stayed at Prada.