Though money's not allowed when you get to Burning Man, there aren't any rules about how much change you drop before you head to the playa.
As is so often the case when festivals become popular, the original stash of artistic, perma-shrooming, ambiguously-employed "Burners" who flocked to the Nevada desert every August for the last decade or two has become cut with more and more corporate honchos looking for an excuse to become "unplugged" for a week. And, apparently, many of these 1%-ers are hitting up New York's legendary Screaming Mimis vintage store for their costuming needs, spending the equivalent of four round-trip tickets to Reno, Nevada for furry headdresses, steampunk goggles and leather gear. Basically, Mystery-chic.
"It used to be arty types [coming in the store]," Screaming Mimis owner Laura Wills says. "Now it's everyone from financial consultants and Wall Street types to PR firm directors."
Wills says she and her team first started noticing people coming into the store in search of Burning Man outfits five years ago and, since then, she and her buyers will specifically search for Burner-appropriate looks during their buying trips. "It's become an amazing phenomenon. It's totally word-of-mouth. Somebody posted on Foursquare that 'Burners' should shop at Screaming Mimis and after we tweeted a 'thank you,' it just spread like wildfire," Wills says.
The store's staff research Burning Man's theme up to a year in advance (this year's theme is "Cargo Cult") to better plan their merchandising and monitor announcements and news from the festival. "Feathers were banned from 2008-2012 because they were called M.O.O.P. -- 'Matter Out Of Place' -- but this year they lifted the feather ban," Wills says. "So feathers -- and leather -- are definitely a theme. But we won't sell them cheap-o [pieces] because they have to be well-constructed so the feathers don't fly all over the playa."
And her customers appreciate the store's efforts to find quality, often one-of-a-kind pieces -- and are more than happy to use their Black AmEx cards to spend as much on a Burning Man outfit as they might on a Tom Ford blazer or Céline dress.
"We had somebody yesterday spend $1500," Wills says. "Another -- a video director -- spent $1000 and is planning to parachute into Burning Man."
One CEO who's giving a TED talk at the festival stopped in to buy a kilt, top hot and goggles to wear during his presentation. Another customer had his pseduo-personal assistant call the store to "vet them" for their inventory and whether they could give him personal assistance. Perhaps not surprisingly, a chauffeured car idled outside while he came in to scope out the headdresses and leather vests. "He was actually a really wonderful guy and was so excited and into it," Wills remembers.
The best thing Will says she's noticed is that her Burning Man customers -- whether art students or hedge funders -- are "the most fun people."
"A completely conservative guy came in wearing chinos and an oxford shirt and bought a headdress, goggles and an astronaut jumpsuit and helmet we had. But when we were ringing everything up, he said, 'One second,' and ran over and grabbed a bright electric blue tutu," Wills says. "he plunked it down and said, 'Yeah, I'll probably just end up wearing this the whole time.'"