EXCLUSIVE: Tavi Gevinson Dishes On Online Magazine ‘Rookie’ That Launches Today

Tavi Gevinson.
Photo: Courtesy of Tavi Gevinson

There are few style blog readers who are unfamiliar with Tavi Gevinson, aka the “Style Rookie,” aka the 15-year-old blogger wunderkind who routinely sits front row at fashion shows and hobnobs with the sisters Mulleavy (of Rodarte, no big deal) and graces the cover of Pop magazine. She is the tow-haired girl who raps about Rei Kawakubo (in the pocket too, if you must know) and has pwned a great many other fash blogs since launching her blogspot when she was 11. TODAY, she launches her lifestyle site Rookie Mag, and we at MTV Style are just super amped. SO we talked her face off. We dished about media empire dictatorships run (like a BOSS) by teenagers, Jane Pratt, dressing up like chickens (as you do), and what you do when you’re a 15-year-old spokesmodel for a bajillion teens who love and trust you. You know, really easy stuff…

MTV Style: Why launch Rookie on Labor Day?

Tavi: We wanted to start in September but a lot of our schedule is based around the start of the week and it was awkward to start on a Thursday or Friday.

So it’s not tied to your return to school?

No, if I had my way my school wouldn’t have started in August, but I’ve been back for a couple of weeks. Back into the swing of things.

Your first theme, aptly, is Beginnings. How was that interpreted for your inaugural week’s content?

Well, it’s determined a lot of our content. Writing a lot about first times. There is some high school nostalgia, Miranda July wrote something about her first feminist moment. As far as our aesthetics go, there’s a fashion story that’s very much a back-to-school thing—good fall colors and everything. We have another story that Erica Segovia shot of little sisters and it’s really sweet.

Tidy fit with the name, too. “Rookie” is great.

I’m glad you like it. I wasn’t sure about it at first. It took a long time to come around because I worried that it was too self-referencing.

No, but…good grief. Considering what “girl-centric” things are called. I like it, it sounds scrappy. It acknowledges newness while implying there’s work to do. It doesn’t sound…vestal virgin-ish. Or pink.

Ew, yeah. Can you imagine? What if we’d called it…bloss…I was going to say “Blossom” and then remembered the TV show. That was different though, that was her name and the premise was very much about her blossoming. I just didn’t want to call the site one of those weird words you only hear when you go to the doctor and talk about “developing.” Or those words that only family friends use when they’re telling you you’ve grown up.

Yeah, gross. You are working with a number of seasoned people though. Your lineup of contributors is unspeakably diesel. Joss Whedon—creator of Buffy, Firefly, and basically everything holy and wonderful—is writing for you. Ira Glass, Dan Savage, the aforementioned Miranda July

I put a call out on my blog last November for submissions and to our regular contributors, and we got about 2,900 emails. A lot of our staff came from that and there are some people we reached out to ourselves—people I was already a fan of—that I would’ve reached out to anyways, who ended up submitting, which was quite nice.

But as far as Joss Whedon, our story editor and he are friends and she told him about Rookie and he said he’d like to write for us.

Ugh, seriously? That linear?

Oh, I know…”so my friend is friends with Joss Whedon and she was all…and then he was all…

[Laughs] Oh, completely. So, brass tacks: There was a lot of speculation about who you’d partner up with publishing-wise and a lot of patronizing garbage about how “business-savvy” you are to own your company outright. Why was that such a immutable priority for you?

I want to have control. I realize there’s no way to talk about it without sounding like a dictator but I care a lot about all the work that’s gone into the site and I would hate to be in a position where I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen to it.

Part of that is about being a teenager and part of it is a selfish thing too. There’s certain things I don’t know about the future, and if we have to go on hiatus I would like to be able to do that and not feel like I’m not doing my job right or something.

It’s hard for me not to just be impressed with that level of foresight. I end up talking to a lot of younger readers and I’m constantly reminded of what I take for granted that I know now that they may not. I think it’s wise to build in that period of uncertainty and recognize that you may not know where you’ll end up…

Well, yeah, I think it would be dangerous to assume otherwise. Dangerous to assume that I know what I want and where I’ll be, and of course when interviewers are talking to a 15-year-old they’ll ask you what you see yourself doing in ten years and…I honestly don’t know.

“Rookie” magazine artwork.
Photo: Courtesy of Petra Collins

Have you thought about what you want to major in college?

I guess something broad that will apply to whatever I want to do…which I feel like will be a lot of different things. I feel like it would help to have a background in art history but I don’t know. I’m not thinking about college yet.

OK, speaking of doing different things, what other paths do you want to pursue?

I’d like to be one of those people who has to dress up in a animal suit outside of a restaurant and tell people to go inside.

Wait, you want to be a Furry?

I didn’t realize there was a name.

Oh yeah, it’s a whole thing. Kind of an unsavory subculture.

Wait, subculture? I want no part of that. I don’t want to do that anymore if it’s already a thing.

[Laughs] You don’t want to do it if you’re not pioneering it, huh?

Yeah. [Laughs] I thought I was SO original.

Fair enough…but what animal would you be?

A chicken. It’s classic. Definitely not a horse. I’ve never had a horse phase. Horses are scary.

Completely. That is a 100 percent acceptable response.

No. Ew. I remember a picture of a horse with giant teeth in a magazine and my friend would shove it in my face and it was scary, so my dislike might have something to do with that. We were 7.

So, you’re super young. Do you feel any apprehension about being a boss?

A boss? I mean, it’s my job. I’m sure that some people would probably not like taking directions from a teenager but that’s what this site is. Everyone working on it, we’re all feminists here and I don’t think anyone I work with would interpret that being a boss would be like being a bitch or anything.

I guess, more, a boss to younger contributors. Not in terms of being a role model or anything, but that you’ll have thousands of girls who are putting their little hearts in your hand.

Whoa. “Hearts in hand,” no pressure. Jeez. I do feel protective of certain assignments. A lot of people are sharing a lot, and a lot of people writing or photographing for us are young and I will carefully monitor the comments sections for their work.

Everyone writing for us agreed to do it before there was any money. I said, “Right now I have no clue what money looks like but I’m happy to make you ’zines and give you candy.” So we have to protect what they’ve worked on. But I hope we have a community where people don’t feel like they’ll be immediately criticized for sharing an opinion.

How do you see Rookie fitting into the “lady site” ecosystem? People are having an awesome time pitting properties against each other in that balkanizing, super-constructive way that they do.

Oh, yeah. When I met Sophia from Hello Giggles we were talking about how just with their launch everyone had already been like, “Which is better, Hello Giggles or xo Jane?” and to me that’s so stupid. It’s like comparing two riot-girl bands.

That’s what’s so great about the internet, there are all these sites that are alternative options for women who don’t feel like their needs are being met by mainstream magazines or a more popular website. The point is that everyone be represented. So it’s good that there are different points of view, and that’s why there should be a lot of websites. I’m writing something for Hello Giggles right now and another thing for xo Jane and I’ve written for Jezebel. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t want anything bad to happen to other people. I don’t want to steal anyone’s readers. I’ve thought about it a lot since there’s that conversation about blogs stealing readers from magazines, but people will read what they like and if they like two websites, they’ll read two websites.

Speaking of xo Jane, you were originally going to partner with Jane Pratt and the publisher for her site but now you’re going with New York magazine’s parent company. Any beef between you guys?

There has not been a falling out or anything. When I called her and told her that we were not going to go with the publishing company that does xo Jane, she was totally cool and understood. The only thing now is that she can’t really work on Rookie officially, but she’s still a mentor to me and has been very helpful.

You’re updating three times a day, that’s ’cause of your school schedule, right?

It’s easiest for me but it just made the most sense if I think logically about what a reader of this site would like. It’s what most easily fits the schedule of going to school every day. Not everyone is spending time on the computer during the day. But it’s also because we plan content a month in advance so we do put a lot of time into thinking and working on every post.

We’re not a site at all where you email around headlines all day long. There are sites that update every half-hour or so but that’s not us. I also like that right now, everything’s so easy, so instant. You can have whatever, whenever you want—on your computer, on your iPhone—I like the idea of having to wait for something.

You’ve got an insane couple of weeks planned. School, this, and Fashion Week. Man, remember when… wait, of course you do it’s your life… but boy did the internet lose their minds over you “quitting fashion“.

Yeah, right now I’m going to New York Fashion Week next week and I’m really just going to the shows I want to see and that’s it. Fashion Week to me is like Lollapalooza or the internet, where it’s good to see bands or go to websites and follow the Twitters that you like, but to get really into the scene at Lollapalooza or get super into all that Tumblr popularity is distracting and kind of silly.

Any advice for other teens launching a site?

Yes, just remember that it’s the internet and it’s not like people’s opinion is the be-all and end-all. Internet people are lost and windy and tangent-y, it’s a weird space so do your thing and write or create what you care about, because it’s exciting when you can tell that people are passionate about what they’re talking about. Just like how it’s boring when people talk about things just to get hits.

“Rookie” magazine artwork.
Photo: Courtesy of Olivia Bee

Who are your style and life icons?

I have a lot, Wednesday Addams is pretty great, Audrey Horne for style, Pippi Longstocking applies to both. But it’s also one of those things when you’re watching a movie or an interview and you’re thinking, “Wow, this person is my hero” but you can’t ever actually remember all of it. You know?

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