Elle Editor Leads Backlash Against 13-Year-Old Fashion Blogger

Tavi Gevinson—the Chicago area 13-year-old behind the fashion blog Style Rookie—certainly has come a long way. In 18 months of blogging, Tavi has gone from writing raps about Rei Kawakubo to flying to Japan as her guest.

Gevinson's meteoric rise — she made the cover of Pop magazine, and became a darling of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the sisters behind Rodarte, all before apparently graduating middle school — has culminated, for now, with a column in this month's Harper's Bazaar magazine. (Gevinson also blogs for Pop.) Yesterday, there was a flurry of Tavi-related news, with the announcement of the Harper's Bazaar column, and the release of a video about the Rodarte for Target collection that Gevinson had been working on since August.

Apparently, not everyone is enamored of this precocious 13-year-old's considerable talents. The Tavi Gevinson backlash has officially begun, with big-name editors like Elle's Anne Slowey and prominent fashion writer Lesley M. M. Blume leading the charge.

Gevinson's magazine piece is a pretty self-assured piece of work — and not even necessarily "for a 13-year-old." Her writerly voice is striking: school hallways have "berainbowed motivational posters" and the Mulleavy sisters sent "California condors, draped in burnt cheesecloths and distorted leather" down the runway. The column is a short, considered wrap-up of a fashion season for a general audience. Which means, apparently, that there's no way she could have written it.

Blume writes off Harper's Bazaar's hiring of the adolescent as "a smart marketing move" while Slowey characterizes it as "a bit gimmicky." Blume — who would no doubt prefer that Tavi were reading her young adult novels, rather than competing with her for freelance gigs — then refers to Tavi three times as "a novelty."

Slowey also dismisses Gevinson's writing, saying that the voice of the Harper's Bazaar story "doesn't sync up with" the way Gevinson talks about fashion in the Rodarte video. (This isn't exactly a fair comparison, since the Rodarte video is mostly off-the-cuff, and very few people talk the same way they sound in a piece of writing that they have the chance to revise and edit.) Bizarrely, Slowey says the video clip had "this vacantlike quality where it was like everyone was on Vicodin. Like everyone was uncomfortably dumb except for me."

"Will she end up on morning shows? Yes she will," Blume says. "I don't think she's a fashion sage, I think she's a novelty and I think she's going to be used as a marketing device as a novelty." Slowey doubts she writes her own work at all. "She's either a tween savant or she's got a Tavi team," notes the editor.

Ever since Gevinson's blog first was noticed by the mainstream press — beginning with another post on The Cut last July, followed by a rote online safety trend piece by the AP, and coverage in the New York Times Style Magazine — questions have been raised about Gevinson's involvement in the site that bears her name. "We're not sure if a 12-year-old is actually doing all this or if she's getting some help from a mom or older sister (some of the photos of her were definitely not self-shot)," wrote The Cut. (It turns out Gevinson sometimes uses — wait for it — a digital camera on a tripod with a timer to take pictures without encountering the dreaded self-taken arm-in-shot problem.) Steve Gevinson, her father, says he was only dimly aware of his daughter's blog before the media coverage. "I may have known, but to me it was a kind of a non-thing to know," says Gevinson père, a high school English teacher. "I didn't look at it. I wasn't terribly interested in seeing it."

But the main argument for Tavi Gevinson's authorship of her own blog and associated freelance work isn't her parents' proclamations of non-involvement, it's the consistency of her writerly voice, as evidenced by just over 18 months' worth of frequent posts. Whether she's talking about Darfur — her bat mitzvah service project benefited the charity STAND — or drawing connections between collections across seasons, or detailing a school art project that involved making a miniature model of a Jeff Koons dog, Gevinson sounds like nothing more or less than an uncommonly smart 13-year-old. Because that's what being 13 kind of is: you're young enough that having too much free time is still a problem — hence the ability to devote extraordinary levels of concentration to extracurricular obsessions — but old enough to be developing in curiosity and understanding of the grown-up world. Saying that Tavi Gevinson couldn't possibly be authoring her own work because of her age just underlines our society's innate prejudice against adolescents. Why should our expectations be set so low? And, perhaps, it shows just how willing we are to forget our earlier selves.

A quick survey of the writers for this site revealed a raft of early over-achievers. At 13, Latoya Peterson was writing poetry that people assumed she must have plagiarized. Anna North won an essay contest and met the mayor of Los Angeles. I sent a short story in to New Zealand's oldest literary journal, without mentioning my age — and they published it and sent me a check. Anna Holmes was picked by visiting Irish dance experts to perform a complicated jig, in tap shoes. Irin Carmon wrote a novel when she was 12, "which I hoped would be published before I was a teenager and the novelty wore off." Dodai Stewart had been in a commercial, recognized Andy Warhol on the street and took his picture, and got to light the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center one year. Then she wrote a screenplay, which she imagined would star Bruce Willis. Is it really that preposterous to think that Tavi Gevinson's talents and interests are her own?

I've always thought that a lot of Gevinson's appeal to the fashion crowd relies on the fact that she, with her unapologetic bookishness and self-described intense fashion "fangirling", reminds some of the major players of themselves, at her age. Perhaps this backlash is coming from people who remember how they were at 13, too — and recognize that they weren't at Tavi Gevinson's level of proficiency. Not by a long shot.

Editors Like Tavi But Don't Take Her Fashion Advice Seriously [The Cut]
Style Rookie [Official Site]
Exclusive: Rodarte, Tavi, And Target Team Up On Video [Style.com]
Tavi Gevinson Reviews The Collections [Harper's Bazaar]
Meet Tavi, The 12-year-old Fashion Blogger [The Cut]
Young Fashion Bloggers Are Worrisome Trend To Parents [AP]
Post Adolescents [NYT Style Magazine]