The Tavi Gevinson Interview

February 10, 2012

Today’s interviewee is a high school student living in the Chicago suburbs. Tavi Gevinson first gained recognition for her fashion blog, The Style Rookie, which helped her land in the front row at Fashion Week and got her profiled in places like the New Yorker. Now she’s the editor-in-chief of a new magazine for smart young women of all ages, Rookie, which began with the support and blessings of This American Life host Ira Glass and Sassy founder Jane Pratt. I met her in person at Mark Bazer's Interview Show last year and was impressed by/jealous of her confidence and wit.

Say a reader was brand-new to Rookie: What pieces would you direct him or her to that showcase what it’s all about?
This is so hard, honestly. I chose like 15:

Because You Can: Our monthly column where Leeann gives you easy ideas for having more fun with your clothing.”

Open All Night: Intense conversations happen at 3 AM in front of a plate of cheese fries.”

How to Not Care What Other People Think of You.”

We’re Called Survivors Because We’re Still Here: A few of the things you will walk through on your way to ‘OK’.

An Actually Useful Article About Dressing for a Party (Without any mention of your body shape or your style personality.)

Camp Rookie.”

Rookie Girl Gangs.”

The Perfect Girl: I’m supposed to be pretty, skinny, smart (but not too smart), cool, funny, and flawless. All without trying.”

The Old Crowd.”

Teen Witch: Exercise your right to roll your eyes this picture day.”

First Encounters With the Male Gaze.”

Let It Out  Our guide to stomping out stress, exorcising your demons and restoring your sanity after a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day … or week … or year.”

Higher Learning  Remembrances of the first year of high school, and advice for getting through your own, from some of our favorite grown-ups.”

Editor’s Letter. September 2011: Beginnings

A lot of them are by me, but it makes sense, statistically! I write more articles than anyone else on the site, and it's easy to meet your own idea of what the tone of a website should be when it's your website and your tone.

What habits or tones common in women or teen magazines did you actively want to avoid when it came to Rookie?
Anything that sort of dictates what the right or wrong way is to be a girl. I keep just describing it as a "website for teenage girls," because I like to think it's not too niche, and I don't want to alienate anyone by saying it's for alternative girls or artsy girls or anything. At the same time, I mean, we don't speak for every girl, but we try to encourage girls to speak for themselves. Mostly we just try to avoid being condescending or making anyone feel like there's something wrong with them that they should be worrying about if they're not already. Or like we're teaching anyone how to be cool. I want people to know that they're already cool. Whatever they're into, that is enough.

What are some upcoming Rookie monthly themes?
We just started "obsession" for February, and March is "exploration."

What lessons or mistakes have you learned or made thus far with Rookie that you think will help you along the way, either with the site or as a writer/editor in general?
A ton. Of course now I'm drawing a blank…sometimes things seem like a harmless dig at a band or whatever but then a girl will comment and be like, "Wait, should I not like that band?" So I've learned to make sure we can have opinions without making anyone feel like they're not welcome in some club. I think the best articles have come out of thinking about the things that bother me and that I think about, or that my friends and I talk about. Those are the ones where girls comment and say we've been reading their minds, and that's important to me, because I really need to brush up on my mind-reading skills for my developing career as a psychic. Seriously though, I think being a teenager can be very lonely, there is nothing like the feeling when you read something you really relate to or listen to your salvation record or have a conversation with a friend that is just so reassuring and faith-renewing. Of course in the middle of the night tonight I'll wake up with a whole list of things I've learned.

Who are some people you’d love to score interviews with for the site but haven’t been able to get quite yet?
Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Tina Fey, Stevie Nicks. I can't tell you how desperate I am to interview Bieber. I watched that documentary for the third time the other night.

You have a lot going on in your life. When it comes to time management, are you good at figuring out the balance yourself, or do your parents have much say on when it’s time for homework, when it’s time for family stuff, sleep, etc.?
Yeah, they check in throughout the day. But I feel like I get as much sleep as I did before Rookie started, it's just that before, all that time was spent procrastinating on stupid websites, and now that time has gone to Rookie and I don't procrastinate anymore. Now I have time for school, homework, Rookie work, time for myself or hanging out with friends and sleep.

In terms of fashion, what is an item, currently, that you think would be worth saving up your hard-earned money to buy? (For yourself, not the average person.)
I love those Prada Thunderbird sunglasses from this season. Lately though all my Etsy and Ebay searches has been for like, antique stamps and old Fisher Price toys? I don't know what happened.

I know it’s early, but tentatively, what colleges are you considering right now?
I think I want to take a year off before college to focus on one thing, since balancing everything with school is really difficult. I'm also using this as an excuse to put off looking at colleges, so I can't answer this question!

What are you looking forward to most, and dreading most, about young adulthood?
Looking forward to independence and dreading responsibility. Mostly, looking forward to my very own plethora of cereal options.

What music has been on heavy rotation lately on your turntable/iTunes/what have you?
Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Carole King, and other things on my "I am an emotional teen girl from the '70s" playlist.

I think one of the things that sets you apart from a lot of other teenagers (current and former) is that you’re a cheerleader for the things you love, when it’s much easier, at that age, to talk about what pisses you off. So, to change gears slightly, what, right this moment, is pissing you off?
God, where do I start! You'll regret opening that door. I mean, I always have tons of school angst I could talk about. I mean, a lot of things piss me off, but I don't really bother with a lot of them. A lot of it is just like, stupid internet writing, so I don't look at it. I'm glad I have school angst though, for some reason it helps me function in high school, being able to walk around scowling even though I really am pleased with how strange everything/everyone is.

How do you think living in/near Chicago has or is shaping you as a creative person?
Well, I've always liked being able to recognize stuff from John Hughes movies. But I don't really feel like I'm from Chicago, I feel like I'm from the suburbs, which I like, because there are lots of secrets. One day I'll have to compile all the pages from my diary of drawings of weird people or cars or houses I saw walking home from school that day. That kind of thing is helpful as a creative person. Of course people in New York or some art scene are going to be interesting, but they're all pretty aware that they are. I like being surrounded by people who aren't striving to be provocative, but every now and then one of them turns out to be a hoarder, or one of those weird people who picks fights on Facebook but doesn't talk at all in school.

Who or what is inspiring you right now?
I mean, I really, really want to be Stevie Nicks at the moment. I also just read Female Chauvinist Pigs, which was really eye-opening, and definitely made me reevaluate a few of my own ideas on feminism and sexual empowerment. Plus people for some reason feel compelled to email me their own moodboards or collages or weird stuff they found in their basement every time I write a new blog post, and I really appreciate that.


How does it feel to be the 304th person interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ?
I can already feel myself changing!

Hey! On an unrelated note, we did a Q&A on crushes on fictional characters over at the A.V. Club today which you may get a kick out of. I would just like to state for the record that I am not a furry.