I left the first ever Cheetos fashion show covered in orange glitter, wearing bright red flame eyeshadow, and carrying a bag full of Flamin' Hots, looking vaguely like a Guy Fieri flame shirt personified. You're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.
I'm not a fashion person, but Cheetos is not a fashion brand. (Well, not really, no matter what a recent collab with Forever 21 might suggest.) And that's how I ended up at the church of the hot chip on the eve of Fashion Week, surrounded by towering glass containers of Flamin' Hots, people with bedazzled orange eyebrows, and bright neon art that stated "you look like a snack."
Cheetos. Fashion. Show. Those words, in that order, as inexplicable as it may seem.
The "House of Flamin' Haute," the brand's first ever "runway show and style bar," was unmissable, having plastered the side of Manhattan's Altman building with cheetah print and rolled out the orange carpet. Inside, guests waited for appointments at the "style bar," where one could get their hair spray-painted with spots, their lips adorned with orange, and their nails covered in Chester-inspired "pawlish." Many, many Instagram videos were being filmed.
There was food and drink: it all contained Cheetos, and it all was a reminder that perhaps Cheetos are perfect just the way they are. A "Mac 'n' Cheese Cigar" topped with that distinct bright orange powder was good in the way that all fried dough filled with cheese is good by default, while "Chester's Fire Watermelon," a sour square of fruit topped with feta and Flamin' Hot dust, didn't move quite as quickly. I had no complaints about the tiny sliders, each skewered with a singular Cheetos puff. Have you ever rimmed a cocktail with crumbled Cheetos? After having had such a cocktail, it now makes sense to me why the practice isn't more common. The bar that created custom Cheetos blends, however, was a high point.
Eventually, it was time for the runway show. To the tune of Normani's "Motivation" and Lizzo's inescapable "Truth Hurts," models filed out in outfits adorned with Cheetos: from a Cheetos purse to a denim jacket with cheetah print wings, to a dress made of Cheetos bags—and with a ribbon of multi-colored cheese puffs—that opened to expose a Cheeto-lined bustle. A performance by rapper Saweetie followed, her "icy grl" persona juxtaposed with a shimmering red outfit and barrettes that read "Flamin' Hot."
After the show, as I received my "Cheeto-fied" makeover—"Fiery Flamin' Hot Eyes" with the addition of orange glitter—I ruminated: what exactly was the Cheetos fashion show, and why?
To be a brand in 2019 isn't to be just a brand. Everything, our individual selves included, is now so online. Brands must be personas, asserting themselves on every social media platform for clout and relevance, and brands must stand out through experiences and "activations," like hosting a fashion show or providing themed makeovers. The reward is exposure and attention as the economy of influencers churns on. For brands nearing that cliff of irrelevance and mediocrity, maybe that all makes sense.
But what if you're a brand that's already well-established in the discourse? My love of hot Cheetos, after all, was born from constant word of mouth. Do we really need a fashion show and a style bar to make us buy the thing? Maybe all that excess, online and IRL, just distracts us from what we really want: a good bag of junk, and the solace to eat the whole damn thing ourselves.