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Tavi Gevinson, left, posed with Gigi Mayer, a fan of her Rookie magazine, after a recent reading.

Bethany Mollenkof • Los Angeles Times,

Teen fashion maven rockets to new heights

  • Article by: Deborah Vankin
  • Los Angeles Times
  • April 4, 2014 - 6:17 PM

In her Beatlemania schoolgirl outfit — gray miniskirt, knee-highs and electric-blue suede shoes — Tavi Gevinson looks like any other fashion-obsessed teen as she wanders the crowded aisles of Los Angeles’ American Rag Cie.

“I can’t afford, like, anything here on my allowance,” the 17-year-old says, scanning the store’s horizon for any gems she might have missed.

She pulls out her iPhone and responds to a text.

“My dad, he’ll be here in about half an hour to pick me up,” she says, heading toward a carousel rack of vintage-image postcards — “the one thing I actually can afford!”

When the wobbly rack catches on the carpet and fails to turn, the petite Gevinson lifts the metal display and firmly plants it a few inches away, where it swirls freely.

“There” she says sweetly. “I’ll take these four.” After paying, Gevinson tucks the cards away in her floral backpack. “Now, what were we talking about again?”

One can forgive the high school senior for being a bit distracted. After flying in from Chicago, she was up late the night before finishing her editor’s letter for Rookie, the online pop-culture magazine she started when she was 15; now she oversees a staff of about 80. There was also a photo shoot this morning, followed by a meeting with her agent and another whirlwind shopping trip in Hollywood.

She will appear at Skylight Books later to sign copies of “Rookie Yearbook Two,” an annual print anthology of Rookie’s best online writing paired with original content from the likes of Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling, Judy Blume and singer-songwriter Grimes.

Part Tina Brown, part Dorothy Parker, the quick-witted Gevinson has the ear — and Tumblr accounts — of a new generation of young women. Not to mention the eye of the media, the fashion world and, lately, Hollywood filmmakers.

She was just 11 when she started the Style Rookie fashion blog out of her Oak Park, Ill., bedroom. Soon she was sitting on the front lines of New York’s Fashion Week. Fast-forward to 2013: appearances on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” and “The Colbert Report,” international speaking engagements and a role in the film “Enough Said” opposite Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

With more than 4 million page views a month, Rookie is emerging as a DIY multiplatform media empire of sorts for Girl America.

“I’d felt like there wasn’t a publication for teenagers that was respected. Or that I, myself, or my friends could really relate to,” Gevinson says, settling into a booth at a nearby cafe.

“One thing I’m very proud of is that Rookie has a lot of legitimacy in publishing and music journalism and fashion. As it’s grown, the goal has become more to make people feel included, that they’re cool enough or smart enough.”

Skylight Books is filling up. The teen girls filter in, some wearing brightly colored floral headbands, others in swingy skirts and glittering prom crowns. Most carry a certain dog-eared book tucked under their arms as they swing between intensely focused and bubbling over with excitement.

Chitchatting with the two Rookie contributors who will be reading with her tonight, Gevinson looks very much her age.

“This’ll be fun. Who wants to go first?” she asks them, as if the event were an impromptu school talent show.

Moments later, however, when Gevinson takes the podium before about 150 rapt girls, she is preternaturally poised as she faces the crowd. She holds her iPhone out in front of her with two hands, as if it were an essay paper, and reads off the screen in an adult, measured tone.

How is she able to ingest so much pop culture daily, interview her heroes, blog prolifically, write essays for Rookie and oversee her staff — all while attending high school? It’s simple time management, she says earlier in the day, at the cafe on La Brea Avenue.

Gevinson spends nearly every sliver of downtime listening to podcasts or music — most recently Lorde, Taylor Swift and Kanye West — while walking to school, for example, or watching old episodes of “Freaks and Geeks” and “My So-Called Life” at night. Study hall, she says, is a perfect time to read other books, like “Girl Power” by Marisa Meltzer.

Such efficiency, however, is not without sacrifice.

“There are compromises,” Gevinson says. “Like there have been times when my grades have suffered or I can’t visit my boyfriend when I’d like to because I have a number of interviews that day. But it’s worth it.”

Still, Gevinson’s parents have made sure to keep her life “full of normal teenage stuff,” says her father, Steve. She attends the local public high school and recently got an allowance increase. She doesn’t yet earn a salary from Rookie — though that may change soon, he says, as the site becomes more profitable — and speaking engagement fees go into her savings. The total sum of her liquid assets from day to day is her allowance: $25 a week.

“It’s a nice little fiction that we’re living out because she has this bank account,” he says. “But she likes living that way. We like her living that way.”

Like many proud “pop culture nerds,” Gevinson has a not-so-subtle obsessive streak. She might get up at 3 a.m. to rearrange all her books, she says, and not only journals her life’s every happening, from monumental to mundane, but also “curates” her peripheral pop culture experiences to match her moods.

“Sophomore year I had my heart broken by a boy. I loved the feeling of heartbreak with dressing in nightgowns from the ’70s, lighting candles and listening to Heart and Carole King,” she says. “I documented it all. It’s like making a bunch of little movies. It makes me feel like I’m in control and everything has a place in the world.”

These days, Gevinson’s mood is often a mix of excitement and trepidation. She’s awaiting graduation in May and has applied to New York University, Barnard, Brown and Wesleyan — though she’d like to take a year off first to live in New York and focus on Rookie as well as other creative ventures, such as acting.

“I just hate ‘voice of a generation’ stuff,” she says, balking at the suggestion. “You put someone on a pedestal and of course they can’t represent all of feminism or all people their age or whatever.”

And with that, Gevinson scurries out to the parking lot to meet her dad, her books and notes for the evening’s reading bundled in her arms.

© 2014 Star Tribune