BOOKS AND ARTS SEPTEMBER 9, 2011
Since the launch of her blog, Style Rookie, in 2008, now-15-year-old Tavi Gevinson has mutated from little girl in dress-up clothes to media darling modeling couture, and the whole world, strangely, appears to be watching. A profile in The New Yorker and another in this week’s New York Times Magazine, various gigs shilling for fashion magazines, and a multitude of infatuated bloggers have made Tavi a household name despite, or perhaps because of, her tender age and relative inexperience. But the adult world’s obsession with Tavi, for all its good (or narcissistic) intentions, is threatening to smother the very endearing oddness about the girl they claim to cherish.
When she was still a prepubescent eleven-year-old, Tavi featured photos of herself on Style Rookie in remarkably unsophisticated get-ups—plaid flannel nightgowns, baggy Edwardian bloomers. Fashion editors and critics have remarked on the genius of Tavi’s style decisions, even going so far as to call her a “savant;” but the photos of an eleven- and twelve-year-old Tavi only show precisely what they are: a little girl playing dress up in outlandish clothes. Wide-eyed and straight-figured, Tavi was still very much a child, but the novelty of her age and the intensity of her encyclopedic fashion knowledge attracted the attention of the New York fashion scene. Within months of Style Rookie’s launch, Tavi had been lauded, feted, and labeled as the “next big thing.”
The buzz surrounding Tavi picked up steam after her one-page evaluation, in the January 2010 issue of Harper’s Bazaar, of the Spring 2011 collections. The magazine, and the fashion world at large, maintained that Tavi’s judgments on the collections were valid, even genius. Despite the article’s hackneyed language, “For spring 2010, the message is to be an individual,” and bland assertions, “The idea of looking ‘effortless’ is always in style,” most of the fashion industry took it in stride. Indeed, for a fourteen-year-old girl, it was a good piece of writing. But for a venerated magazine like Harper’s Bazaar, it was a clear stunt—a case of overzealous adults gleefully promoting their own business interests via an impressionable young girl.
Over the past year and a half, as she’s grown into a young woman (complete with “curves,” as The New Yorker felt the need to point out), Tavi’s blog and fashion sense have ceased to be as self-informed as they once were. Just as any environment is altered by its observers, Tavi’s introduction to the world of high fashion has altered, at first amplifying and later dulling, her sense of style. Gone are the days of little girl nightgowns: Tavi can now call any fashion house and request that next season’s clothes be loaned to her for a photo shoot. Just this month, she posted photos of herself in a collection of Miu Miu dresses that retail in the thousands of dollars. Tavi is no longer the “style rookie” her blog’s title would have us believe. She has been endorsed and adopted by the high fashion industry her original aesthetic seemed to rail against.
Tavi’s latest venture, Rookie magazine, a hybrid advice blog/fashion mag, represents both the best of her own creative style and the worst of those seeking to promote (and be promoted by) her. Perhaps an effort to break free from the grips of fashion’s kingpins, Rookie magazine will be much more than glossy editorials and Mad Hatter-style fashion spreads. With three posts a day (after school, after dinner, and before bed—based around the schedule of a typical teen), a once monthly online mag, and twice yearly print mag, Rookie is an homage to the heyday of ’90s fashion journalism, an era Tavi admits to being obsessed with (despite having been born in 1996).
Rookie’s aim is admirable—in her editor’s letter, Tavi says that the mag is “a place to make the best of the beautiful pain and cringe-worthy awkwardness of being an adolescent girl.” She purposely avoids making Rookie a “guide to Being a Teen.” Instead, the site is “quite simply, a bunch of writing and art we like and believe in.” It’s not a magazine about being different. It’s a magazine by a young woman who simply believes she is different, and she wants to write about it. In fact, the magazine is exactly what many teen girls today need to be reading. It’s written by (mostly) young women, for young women. Rookie is actually quite adorable. If only it could be left alone.
Jane Pratt, founder of Sassy and Jane magazines, guiding voice of teenage girls everywhere, and poster-girl for all things ’90s, has often been referenced as a mentor for the Sassy-obsessed Tavi. Pratt, along with the quirky crew of adults who have now gathered round Tavi—Miranda July, Dan Savage, Ira Glass—have become the touchstones of the media’s obsession with the young blogger. With the cheerleading of this quirky crew, in addition to the fanatical following of adult bloggers and the ever-increasing involvement of major fashion designers, Tavi Gevinson is no longer Tavi Gevinson. She’s Tavi Gevinson, fashion wunderkind. As Lesley Blume, style editor of the Huffington Post said, “I don’t think she’s a fashion sage, I think she’s a novelty and I think she’s going to be used as a marketing device as a novelty.”
What’s most alarming, then, is that although Tavi aims her writing at an audience of her contemporaries, her adoption by the adult world—particularly those of the Sassy generation—has cast her as something entirely different than what it appears she wants to be. The ’90s generation, who are just old enough to feel accomplished but are also beginning to feel the pangs of nostalgia, champion Tavi as a representation of the values and aesthetic of their formative years. To those adults, Tavi represents a do-over, a last chance to grasp at youth. She is a manifestation of who they wish they had been—a cool kid with a head start at success in the fashion industry.
And so Tavi has become a toy for fashion writers and designers. Although I find her style to be the epitome of unwearability, it at least used to be free and real. There were no Miu Miu dresses or gifts from designers. And Tavi was an exceptional role model for other creative young girls who followed her blog and echoed her sentiments. She was, in short, a weirdo—an entirely loveable, pretty cool kind of weirdo.
It seems the style world embraced Tavi because she’s a girl who doesn’t feel bound by the typical rules of fashion—she’s not insouciant, or sexy, or effortless. But the very essence they embraced is the one they sought to change. The fashion world, and the bloggers who have cast her as a golden idol, have lavished her with clothes, attention, and coverage. Luckily, Tavi herself has remained even-keeled throughout the process, sticking to her guns and maintaining a firm sense of self. In fact, she now claims to be a bit “over” fashion—hence the launch of Rookie magazine. But the media can’t help themselves. They want her as their mascot. They want her as themselves.
Hillary Kelly is associate editor of The Book.