Tavi Gevinson is a fashion darling. That’s the term that’s been attached to her since she shot to worldwide fame before the age of 13. She was a kid who loved fashion and blogged about it with a sophistication. She sported gray hair, bizarre hats and dorky glasses, and cultivated a look that was often described as granny-chic. She attended European shows, met Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld, served as a muse for Rodarte’s Target collection and appeared on the cover of Pop magazine. It was clear that she had done her homework and could hold her own when it came to talking shop, but for every insider who embraced her, there seemed to be another who questioned her access and acceptance.
I was never anti-Tavi, but I would be lying if I said I never rolled my eyes at all the fuss. I just wasn’t convinced that she was more than just an unconventional “It” girl. Of course she was styling for BlackBook. Of course she was collaborating on a publication with Jane Pratt.
As a casual observer of fashion, I thought of her as a novelty. Clearly, it was remarkable for someone of her age to have such extensive knowledge of collections, but what made her so special besides her age? Looking at her clothes, I sometimes felt as if there was a Magic Eye effect at work: Editors and designers were blown away by her style, while I just squinted and wondered what I was missing.
My attitude changed last month when she launched her online magazine, Rookie, a project she ultimately decided to run on her own. As a member of the media, I read with curiosity about her vision for the site, and despite all I’d heard about her maturity, I was caught off-guard by her grasp of content consumption, as well as her interest in doing something that went beyond the world of fashion. Here was the girl best known to many for her view-blocking bow articulately describing Rookie as a response to sites that crank out material simply to crank out material and promising a philosophy that seemed inspired by Field of Dreams: “If the content is good, people will read it.” In the same interview, she professed a desire to produce something that truly spoke to universal experiences of teenage girls. And so I began paying attention to the now-15-year-old in a way I never had before.
Joss Whedon, Zooey Deschanel, Dan Savage, JD Samson, Winnie Holzman, Jack Black, Alia Shawkat, Lesley Arfin, Kid Sister, Fred Armisen, Anna Faris, Shannon Woodward, Patton Oswalt. These were the contributors to one of the first posts that ran on Rookie. It was titled “Higher Learning,” and in it these writers recalled their first year of high school and the lessons that students today could take from their experiences. The names at the top of each entry were impressive, but it was the way in each story and piece of advice was conveyed that had me tweeting the site’s praises. (Lesley Arfin: “Even if you don’t like writing, just write about every obsession, story, hatred, happiness — whatever. And save it. All of it. I say this because when you’re an adult, you will get drunk with your friends one night and read your diary out loud to them. It will be the funniest night of your life.”) I was at least ten years older than the target reader, and I was overwhelmed by how much I loved this.
Though Rookie updates just three times a day – after school, at dinnertime and before bed – I admit I have not read every single post. Still, I have come to the site more days than not because I know there could be a charming video like Damian Kulash’s “Ask a Grown Man,” in which the OK Go singer answers readers’ questions about adolescence, or a piece by Paul Feig about his failed sixth-grade science-class seduction. A short post on why stickers are “literally the best thing ever” is given equal prominence as an essay by Miranda July. A photo gallery of people on the street in Amsterdam runs alongside Tavi’s first-in-a-series attempt to humanize bullies. And it’s this mix of smart, relatable, honest articles on an array of Tavi-filtered topics – ’90s nostalgia, Parks & Recreation, SlutWalks – that has converted me from a skeptic to what the young editor might call a “fangirl.” Also, with background pictures that change daily and reflect a monthly theme, the site just looks good. (September’s theme was “Beginners,” so the wallpaper featured retro-cool shots of high-school students. October’s theme is “Secrets,” so the images have a more mystical feel to them.)
I like Rookie for the same reasons I like 500 Days of Summer. It’s upbeat and funny, but it doesn’t sugarcoat things. It says your experiences are special, but they’re not so unique that other people can’t relate. It says people have the power to inspire you and make you over-the-moon happy, but they can also be real assholes sometimes and you have to figure out how to deal with that too. It’s made me realize that Tavi is much more than just a fashion-world plaything. She’s young, but she gets it. She may hobnob with the grown-ups from time to time, but she’s not above putting on goth lipstick and lip-synching to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” in her bedroom. And she recognizes that she doesn’t have to choose between these behaviors. She has a self-awareness that I certainly didn’t have at her age.
Will Rookie last? I have no idea. I don’t know enough about its traffic or business model to even speculate about the site’s future, but if you go into the comments, you’ll find a readership that’s so overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the content that, from an editorial standpoint, it’s clear that Tavi and her team are doing something right.
“Oh Rookie makes my day every day.”
“That was incredible. I was so damn tired before I read it, like my eyes were actually soo heavy, but I literally could not pull myself away.”
“I’m 31 and read Sassy as my first ever mag subscription and was heartened by the positive views provided within. But this … written by and for teenage girls, it’s so inspiring. It makes me want to go out, find some teenagers waiting for the bus or something, and take them out for French fries and ice cream and talk about how amazing their lives are and will be.”
“Never did I think I’d start out reading about some 15-year-old fashion blogger and end up finding an interview with Carrie Brownstein [of Sleater-Kinney and Portlandia] in her new magazine.”