Teen blogger Tavi Gevinson spoke this morning to a packed room of industry professionals, reporters, and marketers about the "unpredictability" of Generation Y. They wanted to know how the generation's personal qualities would make young people liable to buy things.
Gevinson, the 14-year-old Harper's Bazaar writer, Rodarte consultant, first kiss-haver, film-festival judge, scourge of Ann Slowey, and the blogger behind the site Style Rookie, was addressing a conference convened by NYU professor of business Scott Galloway. Under the microscope was Generation Y, the Millennials — a generation of which I am a member, albeit one elderly enough to hear the ring of a really bad Spice Girls song (and a worse Pepsi slogan) in Galloway's event title, "Generation Next Forum: Insight Into Tomorrow's Affluent Consumer."
The lineup consisted of a mix of old-media figures, Internet entrepreneurs, the hipster doctor, a guy from the U.S. State Department who led the 'Text Haiti to 90999' project, America's youngest congressional candidate, a woman who gave a gripping, totally pro-sex 9-minute talk about porn culture, and a bunch of people who wanted to sell us stuff. Words like "investment," "communication," "creativity," and "transparency" were thrown around as if they had some kind of timeless meaning. Like all business seminars, a great deal of it seemed truistic and over-determined rather than insightful. Consumers like "value." They like "quality." They like products that make them feel "cool," and they like products that signify "cool" status to peers. A 19-year-old who does not use the library to write papers said, "Today, the Internet means that information is literally at our fingertips." Teen Vogue's publisher talked rapturously of her magazine's iPhone app, with its built-in e-commerce platforms, and said, "The future is here and now and we are making it happen all around us!" A man claimed, "Nobody says, 'I got it on sale' anymore. They say, 'I got this on deal.' That's the language Gen Y is using." Someone put up a slide that said, "Blogs, blogs, blogs. Nobody really cares about objectivity anymore." The editor of ReadyMade, one of the event's many praisers of "authenticity," played a clip of Bad Brains playing in the late '70s at CBGB's — "which unfortunately isn't there anymore." Actually, it is. It's just a John Varvatos store now.
Tavi Gevinson got up to speak in a black high-necked dress over a Proenza Schouler tie-dyed t-shirt, brown vintage shoes, mint lace-edged socks — and a yellow Miu Miu collar, of which she said, "I can't wear it to school so I wear it whenever else I can, because it has naked people on it." Her PowerPoint slides had stills from Daria and the Mean Girls cafeteria map, the latter captioned, "Where do you fit in, Lindsay Lohan's character? HMMM?"
Gevinson praised certain brands who she said manage their online identities well — Burberry, Prada, and Alexander McQueen, whose website allows browsers to watch every show going back to 2002. Her take on Prada's recent coffee table book, "it had stills from films they've made, background information on the architects of their stores, they even have photos of the way that the bags are made — there's nothing to hide," was a little different than mine; I don't think there's any way to call a self-produced work of corporate brand history an open book, although Prada successfully gives the impression of offering readers an unedited, inside take.
"Being trendy doesn't really work [for brands] because they're over in two seconds," said Gevinson, "but then trying to sell us the whole 'edgy' thing — like, there's this episode of Daria, okay, where Daria concludes, 'Edgy is a term created by middle-aged, middle-brow people who try to say that they're doing something really dangerous but they're really just, you know, marketing a product that came out of lots of research and meetings.'" The audience laughed.
Afterwards, Galloway said he wanted to give Gevinson a gift. When he was 15, he said, he hit a growth spurt — "imagine Ichabod Crane with bad acne" — and found "some form of security, in the form of fashion." He reached into his breast pocket and produced a pair of angular sunglasses. "I was the bomb in my flash blue Vuarnets," he said, and Gevinson giggled and thanked him as he handed them to her.
Later, I went over and introduced myself — in fact, Tavi was the one who let me know, via Twitter, about the conference, and she very kindly ensured I got a ticket on her list — and she immediately hugged me and started talking about Terry Richardson, Sassy magazine, and showed off a 1992 issue of Details with Nirvana on the cover, which she had just acquired from Marisa Meltzer. Kurt Cobain looked particularly dejected in one of the photos inside. "Maybe someone just told him, 'Robert Pattinson is going to play you in a movie one day,'" deadpanned her friend Nate Erickson. Tavi was trailed by the New Yorker's Lizzie Widdicombe, whose notebook hung open, page upon page already filled. Tavi complimented my shoes and introduced me to her mother. (A prouder, more supportive parent could hardly be imagined.) We stepped out into the muggy afternoon sun of Midtown, and hugged goodbye; Tavi had to head out of town for an uncle's wedding.
Style Rookie [Official Site]
Generation Next Forum: Insight Into Tomorrow's Affluent Consumer [Official Site]