Tavi Gevinson recently blew out 17 candles, and while she insists that “no age can compete with the aesthetic appeal of 16,” and a “silly part” of her will miss that, she assures us, like most teenagers, she’s happy to be older. But it’s troubling for the tongue to hastily categorize the Illinois native as being akin to her fellow inbetweeners. After all, she was the 11 year old who stormed the grimacing front rows of fashion week with chunky scarves, green-rinsed hair, and a beaming smile, because of the success of her fashion blog Style Rookie.
“I never had much of a goal for Style Rookie,” she told The Lab. “It was just an outlet for me to record and work out thoughts, and I feel completely fulfilled by the way that has gone – it helped me develop my tastes and voice, and it led to Rookie.” Rookie being the online magazine for girls that Gevinson founded in 2011 and is currently the editor-in-chief of. The website, which spawned a printed compendium in 2012 called Rookie Yearbook One, incorporates all kinds of reviews, essays, advice, craft projects, and fun things for young women finding their way, and has included contributions from the likes of Lena Dunham, Amy Poehler, Judd Apatow, and Jon Hamm. Miraculously, it has done all this without preaching or side-stepping – largely in part to the inclusive, empathetic voice Gevinson has insisted on. On top of finishing high school and having a social life, her job is to coordinate and curate this journalistic juggernaut, steering the words and pictures of some 40 to 50 contributors into the online abyss – did we mention that she just turned 17?
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Gevinson said. “I really, really lucked out that people were ready to praise a young girl for writing and editing a site for teenagers and wearing weird stuff. I hope this can make just a bit more room for other girls to receive recognition for creating their own outlets, and I’m happy I get to use Rookie to showcase talent that I think needs to be seen.” But beyond the blog, and the magazine, and all the shiny media-coated success, Gevinson’s real triumph is her unfailing ability to come across as anything but precocious and smug, and she’s certainly not resting on her laurels.
“It would be foolish to think I’ll always want to do something which utilizes skills I harnessed at age 15,” she said. “I think I will explore many different creative outlets, so the important thing to me is to develop my point of view and broaden the realm of my influences. I will spend my whole life as myself and experience everything with myself, so I want to learn about other people and their ideas.” She plans to attend college after taking a gap year so that she can build “a strong foundation for a life filled with knowledge and creativity,” in ways beyond academia. “In short,” she summarized, “my brain is developing and learning excites me.”
Gevinson is riding the woven wave of her cult fashion credentials to promote and popularize feminism and teen empowerment, but her public appearances and TV interviews are not arrogant, self-congratulatory reality stunts, far from them. “I never watch my appearances,” she said. “They get the job done; they reach people who might not have known about Rookie otherwise, and then I can pretend they don’t exist, because it messes with one’s self-awareness and creativity… Appearances are just an introduction to one’s work; it’s better to spend time on the actual work, and I trust that people will form opinions based on that. I don’t think anyone is particularly interested in the raunchy details of my late-night Simpsons marathons. Most of the time, I am asked about the actual work I do, and that’s very nice.”
But it’s hard to imagine Rookie ever being a place Gevinson won’t be able to share her thoughts, and for that her readers will always be grateful. “Things do get personal on Rookie, and when that happens, I don’t really have set rules or boundaries,” she said. “I just kind of choose my words carefully. In writing, I try to focus on feelings instead of experience, since that’s the plane people relate to one another on, anyways. I don’t really share stuff about my friends or high school life though. It’s too special. It’s mine.”
With the pressures of a career many adults would crumble under, it’s unlikely Gevinson has a high school life resembling the norm in any sense, and yet, “We watch movies and dance around and go to the woods and get food,” she said of a typical day with her friends. “We get a lot of food. I spend all of my money on food. The man at the 7-Eleven on my street called me ‘the sweets lady’ the other day. Oh, sometimes we sit in the 7-Eleven parking lot and watch people go in and guess what they’re going to buy.” Gevinson’s not like most teenagers, and yet she is, in the most wonderful way possible.