Geoffrey Nelson on the art of Burning Man costuming
Geoffrey Nelson’s artist loft at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz is brimming with eye-catching Burning Man costumes. Mannequins in elaborate getups stand around in the bright, open space, hinting at the troves of funky clothes hiding in the home’s many closets (including the kitchen pantry) that are stuffed with Black Rock City digs.
Nelson shares his clothing creativity with fellow Burners—veterans and “newbies,” alike—in annual costume workshops.
He wasn’t born a costume aficionado, however. “My first time, I thought wearing a hair clip was really radical,” he laughs. “I walked around with this hair clip on top of my head.” But after 12 years of going to Burning Man, Nelson has his playa style down: like his theme camp, Mo’s Mini Martinis and Erotica, it draws heavily on a Bedouin aesthetic, which harkens back to childhood years he spent living in Morocco and is fitting for the festival’s desert environment.
While his daytime outfits capture a mellow Arabic influence, his nighttime getups are big, bold and colorful. He has an impressive collection of marching band uniforms, as well as traditional Masonic garb. “The Masons are getting rid of all of their traditional, ritual clothes, so I buy them on eBay for around $20,” he explains. He enlivens these already striking outfits with “EL” wire (a long-lasting, durable wire that glows brightly) to make it pop in the desert darkness.