The moment I saw the pint-sized fashion blogger take her seat in the front row of Chanel’s spring couture show back in 2010, I knew it was the beginning of the end. Tavi Gevinson was a 13-year-old kid from Oak Park, Illinois, but already the precocious style maven was making big waves in the international blogosphere with her beloved “Style Rookie” site—a kind of scrapbook journal she’d started 2 years earlier—that was attracting over 30,000 readers daily. Gevinson’s earnest and unwittingly controversial efforts were emblematic of the democratization of fashion: Even a pubescent fan, who blogged from her Chicago suburb bedroom, could have opinions and a voice as vital and valuable as a seasoned editor. The system had finally, perhaps happily, changed. And while cynical tongues wagged, arbiters everywhere became cognizant of fashion’s New Age.
By the following year, Gevinson had expanded her horizons, embracing issues of feminism and pop culture, and founding the online “Rookie Magazine”, of which she continues to be editor-in-chief. The publication, aimed at teen girls, is a forum for the exchange of ideas, reflections, photos and art by its many diverse young contributors. It’s proven to be a powerful platform: In 2014, Gevinson made Time Magazine’s list of the 25 most influential teens. Not only has Gevinson proven her journalistic skills, but she’s also blossomed into a professional speaker and a fine young actress, having starred in “This is Our Youth” on Broadway, opposite Michael Cera, just last year. This year, she’s slated to return to Broadway in “The Crucible”.
Tavi Gevinson was in Toronto recently for the launch of “Yearbook Four”, a publication that compiles the best of her “Rookie” website’s senior year. I spoke with the 19-year-old dynamo about growing up in the limelight, how her parents helped ground her and the evolution of her personal approach to style.
J: People first became aware of you as the young fashion blogger—truly one of the first to surface in such a major way, and someone who made us aware of how things were going to proceed in the future. How aware were you of the impact that you were having on media and the fashion industry?
T: It was always really difficult to gage and I don’t think I was very interested in knowing because I was never writing for an audience with the interest of giving them news about fashion or telling them what was cool to wear. It was all coming from a very personal place, and to protect that it was great that I was just still living at home and going to school. And there was stuff written about me and I could look at it or I could not. I just came up at a time when the narrative of someone’s fifteen minutes running out was very prevalent. The idea of being a ‘child star’ always sounded awful to people my age, and so I was just very aware that these things are kind of fleeting and that a lot of it didn’t have to do with me—it had to do with my age, it had to do with whatever came to mind when people thought of a young internet sensation. So I felt healthily removed from it.
J: One of the things that’s so compelling about you is that you’re a kind of young renaissance woman. And it seemed even from early on, that fashion was only going to be a springboard for you, to catapult you into a much bigger stratosphere. As passionate as you were about fashion at the time, I’m wondering if that arena still intrigues you…
T: Well I think I knew that it felt connected to theatre, which I’d been doing from a young age, and film, which I was just discovering. I always wanted to make sure that my interest in fashion included an understanding of the history and the context and the influences and the inspirations behind everything that I liked as a collection or garment. It was just so exciting to be able to unpack all of the kind of references underneath everything.
J: But I’m curious to know how important a role that style/fashion arena played in making you aware of the big picture and of how you could use that as a platform to get to people about other things.
T: I knew that I had different kinds of aspirations, but it wasn’t any type of career move at that age to use fashion as a springboard for anything else. People ask me about the decision to transition from fashion to Rookie magazine. But it wasn’t a decision. I was fourteen and my interests were changing. So all of it was pretty organic. I’m a very careful person. I never did anything that I was uncomfortable with. If anything, I wish I’d been more savvy about knowing and understanding things like asking for money when you do something. But there was so much going on that I wasn’t calculating anything.
J: From where you sit now, looking back at that world, what are some of your thoughts on the power of it, or perhaps the evils of it?
T: Well to be that interested in personal style was great for me in the same way keeping a diary was great for me because it was a way to express myself and it feels good when you’re outsides match your insides. And then to have that recognized in this other sphere was interesting. But you know a lot of it was mixed… Looking back, I’m very glad that I was going to the stuff with my parents. They had no interest in the scene initially, but they became interested. They thought it was fascinating. But no part of them wanted to go to an Alexander Wang party! So I’m really glad that they were with me and coming at it from these outsider perspectives. I mean my dad is an English teacher and my mother is a textiles artist so they’re interested in the world in very unique ways. And I think that having that perspective was helpful. But looking back, I’m even grateful for the initial encounters that were less than positive, because it forced me to build a really thick skin and to think constructively about whose opinion was important to me and if an opinion mattered, if it came from someone who you don’t feel shares your values. And it’s also honestly a blessing because now I live in New York and I think I would have had a weirder first year in New York if something like a very exclusive, elitist party was new for me and I felt super wide-eyed. Now that I can see though some of the fluffier parts surrounding the scene, it allows me to maybe see someone at a party that I can actually have a conversation with, and learn something from…. You know, make other kinds of connections.
J: It’s interesting that your brand is called Rookie now that there’s not much about you that is a rookie. You’re so seasoned for someone your age…
T: Well I don’t feel like Rookie is my brand. It’s a publication. We’ve had hundreds of contributors over the years, and thousands of readers. So it doesn’t centre around my life…
J: Truly. But there’s a brand association there, especially when we think of who the founder of it was. It’s interesting that you see it as a separate entity.
T: I started it from a very personal place—literally at the desk under my loft bed in my parents home. But now we have an office that I go to everyday, and I have a commute… It’s personal for me in a different way. It’s less about working out what I’m going through and more about wanting other young people to make the emotional connections that I’ve been lucky to make through the Internet, through communities of different types of artists, through my readership.
J: You had a turn on Broadway not that long ago and got great reviews. Everybody was buzzing about that. And those who weren’t aware of your hidden talents or abilities were very impressed. Is that something that you want to do more of?
T: Yeah! We’re starting rehearsals in January for The Crucible on Broadway and I’m so excited… And a little scared.
J: Which is a good thing.
J: You’re obviously still adamant about not just settling for one kind of arena, which I think is a very modern thing to do. You don’t want to confine yourself to just realizing one dream.
T: No. And I feel like I learned so much more about each arena from the others. I think being in a play made me a better writer. I think working on Rookie and thinking so much about what it means to connect with someone emotionally made me a better stage actress. I just feel so lucky that I’m able to do things that are enriching for me.
J: You’re an amazing role model for so many young women now. Do you actually consciously feel the responsibility or just accept it?
T: Well, it’s not a bad way to live, thinking, ‘What would I want a smart but maybe a little confused fifteen year old to see in someone she admires?’ I think it makes me take better care of myself and less willing to make concessions about other people’s opinions. I’m very lucky that the audience I’ve had has been that supporting kind of audience. In terms of my own creative expression, I feel just more encouraged to open up.
J: I spent a bit of time hanging out with your dad at your first Chanel show… and he was like a fish out of water! But what a lovely man to just absorb it all and go with the flow and not really judge it in any way, and allow you, his precious child, to just be swept away a little by it all. But you always remained an incredibly grounded kid. What was it that your parents gave you that made you this way?
T: Gosh, I don’t know. I think for people who had never in their lives had access to these incredibly impenetrable industries, it’s great that their only concern was my health and happiness. And I feel like they just continued to parent me the way they had when I was little. My mom is an artist, so we were always doing art projects and it was such a natural thing to do. It wasn’t scary, it wasn’t an activity. It was just part of the day. And my dad’s an English teacher, so he has this really genuine love of language and writing. And it’s so different to me from people I know who are obsessed with the identity of a writer. He’s just so happy to be reading and teaching it and studying it. They’re just amazing people.
J: What do you think is going to be the toughest challenge for this new crop of adolescent girls growing up? Things are changing so quickly….
T: It’s different for everyone. Everyone is living under different circumstances and dealing with their own sets of challenges but I just really hope that Rookie can be a place where, even if we can’t solve the problems of the world, we can still allow them to feel seen, and heard, and understood.
J: And finally on more of a superficial level- how has your approach to style changed since you first got into that world?
T: I don’t think that’s superficial. I go through periods where I don’t really care what I look like because I feel more focused on the work that I’m doing and I don’t want to think about it. And then sometimes it feels like the biggest part of my day is getting dressed. Probably the biggest change is that I have more of an awareness of my body than I had when I was that age, because I was totally prepubescent and would just go to the thrift store and had no concept of sizes and was just like ‘I can make anything work! What’s important is the colours and whatever…’ And now I don’t feel that way. But I still try to make sure that if I put something on and then I feel ‘Ah it’s too weird’, then I have to wear it. Because I’ll always feel better coming home at the end of the day knowing I did that than being out and knowing that I sort of compromised based on some standard that no one even set for me. (laughs)