“Experience” (n.) is one of those words whose definition has morphed over recent years. Yes, technically, anything that happens is an experience, but in certain circles, it has become a descriptor for any old event, even though so many of these events so rarely clear the bar for “something remarkable happened here.” This is why I attended the Cheetos House of Flamin’ Haute fashion show and salon bar experience with medium-low expectations. I love Cheetos, so I knew I would have at least a nice time food-wise, but what I did not expect was an all-out bacchanalia of snack-spawned self-discovery.
Have you ever gone from experiencing ironic joy to tentative joy to purely unbridled joy in roughly 97 minutes? That transformation began the moment Crystal Anderson and I made our way up the orange carpet in Chelsea, flanked by perplexed people leaving their office buildings to begin their commutes home. Crystal, who read the entire invite email, which was essentially a work of flash fiction, knew more about what to expect—in fact, she’d already made an appointment at the brow bar. But I was going in completely unaware, like a babe in an extremely well-produced corporate woods. I anticipated Cheetos and figured there’d be experimental fashion of the early-season Project Runway variety. The self discovery, however, was not on my radar.
The cavernous and orange space (one can only assume the paint was specially mixed to match the Cheeto brand guidelines) was filled with beauty bars of different heights. Branded glam stations filled the space: Makeup stands for a paw-print cat-eye or glitter lip, nail stations for nail art ranging from subtle to basically stickers of bags of Cheetos, a hairstyling area, and the aforementioned brow bar.
I settled on the brow bar, as I am territorial about my hair and already had a very nice gel manicure going on. I let a very nice woman named Kelly tint my eyebrows read and cover them with tiny jewels. Crystal offered moral support and the rest of her champagne she wasn’t going to finish. As I ate my personal mixed bag of hot Cheetos, I suddenly felt a warmth overtake my whole being, not just my belly. I glanced in the mirror and saw for what felt like the first time, myself, but as the self- assured leonine creature I’d always wanted to be. It must be the rush of flavor crystals, I thought to myself as I turned back to face the arena full of snack-food revelers. But when Kelly finished, I realized the feeling wasn’t a fluke. I was Poison Ivy for the Euphoria generation. I felt sultry, I felt bold, I felt sensual. And I found this seat of my sexual power at a Cheetos Activation.
After about an hour of mingling and makeovers and ‘grammable moments, the DJ lowered the mix of 2000s hits to indicate that the runway show was starting. Drinks weren’t allowed in the venue, but Cheetos were, an act of brand alignment that felt quietly subversive. I marveled at the wonders that life can bring and said goodbye to Crystal who had somewhere else to go.
Then the show began: The first look was an elegant tulle creation set off beautifully by a leggy model strutting down the runway to Lizzo. As the strobe lights reflected off of my red eyebrow gems, I felt my confidence and newfound sensuality double with every fiery look sent down the runway. Models of all shapes, sizes, and races wore outfits that ranged from the very literal (a gown made of Cheeto bags!) to the Guy Fieri-esque (so many flame pants) to the legitimately very cute (one black woman had leopard print hair that I might have to copy, a bold look for a newly bold woman). It was hokey, it was delightful, and it was, it seems, a labor of love. I had a fucking blast.
As I made my way out after the show, I held my chest a little higher, gave my hips a little more swing. I turned back to catch one final glance at the space that had given me so much, and a bright neon sign that said “lookin like a snack” caught my eye. I arched one perfectly sparkly red eyebrow and made my way into the night.
Photos via Getty Images.