Fasion blogger Tavi Gevinson at Yorkdale mall book signing.
Photography by Shannon Clarke
Article by Shannon Clarke
Ajax teens Sofia Cardone and Arielle Mantes have been waiting three hours to meet American blogger Tavi Gevinson, passing the time by wandering Yorkdale mall, where she’d soon make her appearance.
“She’s original, and different, and inspiring. I think the way she sees things is really interesting,” says Cardone, a recent reader of Gevinson’s online magazine, Rookie.
Their waiting pays off. When Gevinson arrives and takes a seat on stage, she looks right at Cardone and Mantes sitting in the front row and says: “Oh my god you’re wearing the crowns from my book! That’s so cool!”
And when the fashion phenom begins signing copies of her book Rookie: Yearbook One, they are first in line.
Although the audience of young women is well dressed and fashion-forward (there are a lot of tights, combat boots, wool sweaters and bright red lips in attendance) the draw to Gevinson and anticipation for Rookie is about much more than style.
At 16, Gevinson is an icon in the fashion industry, and an inspiration to millions of women and bloggers. She began writing about fashion and documenting her own style adventures when she was only 13 on her blog, The Style Rookie. It made fans out of designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, and Gevinson was flown to New York for Fashion Week.
Canadians may have caught their first glimpse of the teenager, then barely out of grade school, on the late Fashion Television, speaking to designers like Karl Lagerfeld with all the knowledge and confidence of a seasoned pro.
She exhibited that same confidence at her reading on Saturday. Now well into high school, Coke-bottle glasses gone, Gevinson is promoting a collection of some of the content on her online magazine, Rookie. The 300-page book came together in just a few months with the help of Montreal publishing house Drawn and Quarterly.
“We got a call from Drawn and Quarterly in May and the fact that [the book] came together in time for September is really amazing and a credit to how much they believed in us,” says Gevinson.
The anthology has appeal for even the least style-conscious women. In fact, aside from the stunning photo essays (which feature girls of all shapes, sizes, and races), Rookie has little to deter those who insist their style is no style at all.
There are musings on the first years of high school, identity, body image, feminism, and some entertaining “How To” pieces, like How To Do A Bitchface, which Gevinson demonstrated on Jimmy Kimmel Live in September and again for the crowd this weekend.
“This is really mean!” she says, halfway through her demonstration. “I wrote this at a very bad sophomore-year-place in my life. I use these much more rarely now, I promise.”
Between pages of the book are stickers, handwritten playlists, and a 7” flexidisc.
The writing comes from readers, regular contributors and some celebrity guests including Lena Dunham and Sarah Silverman. Gevinson also includes interviews with writer David Sedaris and actress Aubrey Plaza (among others).
What makes Rookie special, and why Gevinson has garnered such mass appeal, is because the content of her online magazine and Rookie: Yearbook One flies in the face of those who think teenagers (and especially teenage girls, so often blamed for the degredation of the English language and the vapidity of pop music) have nothing smart to say.
“There’s not a lot of feminists that I know who are my age, so for them to be sticking up for women’s rights means a lot to me,” says Alicia Lapena-Barry, 15. After the reading she is heading to the Magic Pony on Queen Street W. for a Rookie costume party.
“I just thought it was a good opportunity to meet some of my inspirations, some people I really love and look up to,” she says.
Gevinson embraces the feminist label, but said in an interview with the Toronto Star she understands why some people don’t.
“I think they shy away from feminism because it starts to seem like a rule book,” she told the newspaper.
Gevinson isn’t old enough to vote, but she has been following the election and encourages young women who can cast a ballot to do so. I asked Gevinson about a PSA in which she appeared alongside dozens of famous faces including Tracee Ellis Ross and Mae Whitman. In it, they sing along to Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, a response to Romney’s anti-woman platform.
“We got talking about how scary it is, all of this stuff about legitimate rape and Mitt Romney going back and forth all the time on his policies about women, and we wanted to do something creative together,” she said. “I hope it worked.”
She and the Rookie staff are hopeful they will one day persuade President Obama to participate in an “Ask A Grown Man” segment on the blog. The segment, which has already featured Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, has famous men answer feminist questions.
Alongside photographer Petra Collins and writers Anna Fitzpatrick and Hannah Johnson (all Toronto-based), Gevinson took questions from an initially timid crowd (though it’s possible they were still star struck after Gevinson’s reading), including one on how she manages to run a successful blog, promote a book, travel, and attend high school.
“I don’t procrastinate,” she said, adding: “I feel more stressed when I’m not doing something than when I am.”
It’s easy to forget that young celebrities are in many ways just like their teenage fan base, but, surprisingly, in person, Gevinson seems like your ordinary high school student. She sits at the end of the front row while Fitzpatrick is reading, smiling happily like her fans did when she was reading. While they listen intently to Fitzpatrick’s adventures among the high school misfits, the audience (particularly those just an arms length away from their teenaged idol) sneak excited glances her way. And when Hannah Johnson creeps in during Fitzpatrick’s reading, Gevinson smiles widely, and they throw their arms around each other, the way you do when a friend sneaks in beside you during lecture or a high school assembly.
Though her name is the only one the appears on the promotional posters around the store, though hers is the only one most think of when they think of Rookie, Gevinson is adamant about reader involvement, and about the site being a community rather than her own space.
“We do say ‘be critical and question everything’ but we don’t want to say we’re the exception.”
Another Rookie plus is that the fashion and style components are accessible. While Gwenyth Paltrow’s GOOP newsletter has drawn the ire of readers to whom $90 for a white T-shirt isn’t practical, Rookie includes tips on how to thrift shop and zero designer suggestions.
When asked what her style tip is, Gevinson pauses before saying, simply: “Wear what you want.”
Whether you buy the book or read the blog, are in high school or left those halls years ago, Rookie has something to offer anyone looking for feminism, art, music, style, and an honest perspective on being “young and alive” in 2012. M