I want my “Team Tavi” T-Shirt NOW!

January 6, 2010 · Print This Article

Art people, are you reading Style Rookie? If you’re not, I’m here to say I think you should be. Although I myself tend to stay away from fashion and style blogs, because looking at things I could never buy for myself tends to make me feel bitter and depressed and old, I am obsessed with Style Rookie. It’s a blog about fashion and pop culture written by Tavi Gevinson, a thirteen year old girl who lives in a suburb just outside of Chicago (I’m thinking it’s the same one that I live in, but who knows). Tavi–already famous enough to be known by her first name only–was recently profiled in the Chicago Tribune in an article on successful teen fashion bloggers who are garnering attention not just from fashion-conscious tween readers but from fashion designers, stylists, and magazine editors themselves. (Read the Tribune’s article, published on December 30, 2009, here). The article describes Tavi’s rise to fame amongst the fashion set, and also contained some sniping about the pint-sized blogger’s success from a few jealous hags (sorry, I meant to say “fashion editors”). An editor at Elle suggested that Gevinson might have had help with the writing of her blog, remarking that she suspected there was a “Tavi team” behind her, while a fashion writer named Leslie M. M. Blume referred to the teen writer as a “novelty” with little staying power (unlike the trends Blume herself writes about).

Clearly, there are some in the fashion world who don’t like it when young women talk back, in this case by taking fashion and making it personal, something that’s wholly their own. Remember, this is an industry in which all the models, regardless of age, are called “girls”. So who does *this* girl think she is?

That’s precisely the question that fascinates me about Ms. Gevinson and her blog. The construction of identity that takes place within and through Style Rookie is made all the more powerful because the subject is a teenage girl. Adolescence is a time of identity flux for all genders, but I’d hazard that it’s young women who are most strongly battered about by its currents. Fashion magazines have always known this and have tried to capitalize on it, to steer, mold and shape it, through discursive forms of address that emphasize “do’s and don’ts”, fashion faux-pas, what’s in and out. And always, above everything else, the primary directive of Thinness. (This last one is more important than anything else). But this is how Tavi describes herself in the “About Me” section of her blog:

“Tiny 13 year old dork that sits inside all day wearing awkward jackets and pretty hats. Scatters black petals on Rei Kawakubo’s doorsteps and serenades her in rap. I have no where near 4 million readers. Rather cynical and cute as a drained rat. In a sewer. Farting. And spitting out guts.”

Although Tavi’s blog focuses on enthusiastic fashion commentary, including regular reports on her favorite designer’s new lines, what makes Style Rookie really stand out for me is Gevinson’s nimble connecting of the dots between fashion, popular culture, and her own daily life. Her blog is a collage of all three. She finds visual similarities between Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic silhouette, the cover of Yohji Yamamoto book and the poster art for the movie Despicable Me (all of this, mind you, in a post titled “Things I Realize While Doing the Polka in Gym Class“), posts collages of fashion models against backgrounds culled from contemporary art works, and details a classroom art project in which she made a tiny version of Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog.” (To see more images that illustrate this point, check out Gevinson’s blog or her flickr set here).

Gevinson’s bedroom-based construction of an online/virtual identity reminds me, to some degree, of Sadie Benning’s earliest pixel videos – the ones she made alone in her bedroom when she was around 15 or 16 years old. By way of privately enacted scenarios that often made use of masks and paper-cut figures and that were filmed with a child’s video camera, Benning used pastiche as a way to come to terms with who she was: young, queer, female, desiring and desirable.

Sadie Benning, It Wasn't Love, 1992. Courtesy of Video Data Bank.

Sadie Benning, Girl Power, 1992. Courtesy of Video Data Bank.

I’m fairly certain that when Sadie Benning rose to prominence as the youngest artist ever to be included in a Whitney Biennial, there was a fair amount of jealous, behind-the-scenes speculation that maybe her video artist father, James Benning, was the true author of her films.

To be sure, Gevinson’s presentation of self in Style Rookie is a far less risky proposition than Benning’s was in those early videos.  Gevinson is small, cute, has an innate knack for fashion, and doesn’t seem all that shy about posting pictures of herself with fashion gurus like Chloe Sevigne or the sisters behind Rodarte (Gevison collaborated with the latter on the video for their new line for Target).

Of course, if it somehow turns out that Gevinson isn’t really author of her own blog (and I don’t for a second believe this is the case) all of the above would be rendered moot. But I think that this teenage girl, this (very) young woman, is exactly who she says she is, and that’s whoever Tavi wants to be.

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