A Considerable Town

Tavi Gevinson, 16-Year-Old Magazine Editor, Turns an L.A. Gallery Into a Teenage Bedroom

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Thu, Aug 9, 2012 at 6:00 AM
click to enlarge Tavi Gevinson - PHOTO BY NANETTE GONZALES
  • Photo by Nanette Gonzales
  • Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson -- blogger, fashion icon, cultural phenomenon, 16-year-old girl -- is happy to be in Los Angeles, her favorite city, at the tail end of a long, exhausting, amazing and smelly road trip across the country. Specifically, she is in Hollywood, turning Space 15 Twenty gallery into a teenager's bedroom. In a few days, there will be a party in the gallery for her friends and devotees. But her art installation is not yet finished. So far, there is a bed on a platform with pink paint seeping out like blood from underneath, and not much else. "It's kind of like a human sacrifice," she says, glancing at it.

Gevinson is editor in chief of Rookie, an online magazine for teenage girls, written by teenage girls, helmed by a teenage girl, monetized by adults. Rookie grew out of the personal-style blog Gevinson started when she was 11. Now a preternaturally composed young woman, Gevinson pens articles like "Winter Sweaters: A Taxonomy" and "Five Things That Fill Me With Childlike Wonder Despite My Usually Feeling Like a Crotchety Old Hag."

Sponsored by Urban Outfitters, the Rookie road trip began in New York, then proceeded through a solid month of zine making, sunglasses decorating, doughnut eating, record shopping and otherwise solidifying Gevinson's fan base in 16 cities. Six people rode in a van, including her friend and collaborator, 19-year-old photographer Petra Collins. Collins' boyfriend, Avery, who is 32, drove, because you have to be at least 25 to operate a rental car, and besides, Gevinson can't drive. She failed her driver's test (poor left turns; can't park).

"This is all the stuff for the show that I'm just now unpacking," she says, rummaging through a dilapidated cardboard box. "Some of it is from my actual room. Here's my Care Bear." She shakes dust from the bear.

Fans also donated keepsakes from their own rooms, everything from glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars to The Complete Book of Witchcraft. "One girl gave me her journal," Gevinson says, flipping through it. "I was reading it looking for boy drama and friend drama, and then it's all just, 'I watched a movie and stayed home.' I realized a lot of my diaries are the same way" -- ordinary.

The next item, however, is a reminder that Gevinson isn't exactly an ordinary girl. It's a drawing of Stevie Nicks. Actress Winona Ryder gave it to Gevinson after they had dinner one night in New York.

"Being a teenager," Gevinson proclaims, "can be a very lonely time." On the drive, she wrote in a notebook to get her head around it. Pages of stuff about feeling disconnected, about a crowded bedroom jammed with items that are an attempt to find something "more than what we have here" on Earth. About rare, magical moments "when it feels that the stars inside people -- you know, 'cause we have the same particles that stars do -- when it feels as though those stars have aligned."

About the peculiarly passionate friendships among teenage girls. About fandom, and how you can place such faith in a singer. Or a movie, or book, like The Virgin Suicides, which she has reread every summer since seventh grade. What is special to her about Virgin Suicides is "that these girls feel trapped." Music is their way out.

"I mean, I don't feel trapped or confined," she insists. "I'm able to do stuff like this. And travel and have friends I love. But that feeling can have nothing to do with your circumstances. It's just the way you feel."

At the moment, with workers spray painting and hammering in front of the gallery, she feels OK, but she recalls feeling "angsty" at the start of summer: "My dad was like, 'Read The Catcher in the Rye and get over it.' " She started the Salinger novel but got distracted by Didion.

More items are coming out of the box now. She lists them in a flat voice but handles them delicately: "This is a valentine my friend made in French class. ... This is a candle a girl brought us. It was the first thing she got at a thrift store. ... This is a collage of Nixon one girl made."

  • Photo by Nanette Gonzales

It's an inherently tricky job, continually evaluating what it means to be a teen while simultaneously being a teen. Gevinson is already one of the world's more scrutinized adolescent girls, in a time that has made high art (and commerce) out of scrutinizing adolescent girls.

But it is maybe not quite as tricky as it was back when she was the much-envied, oddly dressed child at Paris Fashion Week touring the Dior atelier. There was a time when she knew every model's name. When she could look at any fashion magazine and identify which collection each piece in it came from. This was eons ago, when she was 13.

This fall, when she goes to Fashion Week, she won't attend as many shows as she used to. "I'm not obsessed with fashion in the way I was before," she says. And while she remains friends with Miuccia Prada and Rodarte's Mulleavy sisters, designers' press offices don't really send her free stuff to wear anymore. It was nice. But she was prepared for it to go away. Lately, she is much more into dressing like the character Laura Palmer, the murdered girl from Twin Peaks.

"Now, it's stuff like this that I get," Gevinson says. "Shrines to Nixon."

She unwraps a unicorn with a broken horn. A jar of honey. "I'm fascinated by the teenage bedroom. I don't even remember the thought process of how we decided to make one. It was sort of inevitable. Because it's your world when you're a teenager that you create for yourself. It's where a lot of things happen. Hearing a record for the first time. Conversations with friends. Sleepovers."

She did not want the room to be a duplicate of her room, which is "super messy and gross."

Not that Rookie fans would mind. On the road trip, they jokingly referred to Rookie as a cult. "But, like, it kind of is," Gevinson says.

In September, Rookie's first print edition will be published, coinciding with the magazine's one-year anniversary. By then, Gevinson will be a junior in the same suburban Chicago public school where her dad taught English for 30 years.

She doesn't think about what she will do after graduation, unless she is asked, in which case she says she doesn't know. Or she says she's interested in filmmaking but is keeping her options open (she just signed on to star in Nicole Holofcener's next movie). She knows she wants to take "a gap year" between high school and college.

Wandering into the gallery space, she tells one of the workers, "The shelves look good." He nods, as if it is no strange matter to be taking orders from a 16-year-old.

Gevinson wants to be clear: The room they are installing isn't a fantasy. "We're not building it around what a girl in our heads would be," she says.

"It's like a teenage girl's bedroom magnified," says Collins, coming over. "It's all the weird little corners of stuff."

"It's like a giant shrine," Gevinson adds.

"Yeah," Collins says.

"Yeah," Gevinson says, grinning. "It's a mutant teenage bedroom."

She has visited the homes of girls who seem tough. But enter their bedrooms, and they're so careful about how things are arranged. She finds the care they put into it shocking and sweetly humanizing.

Gevinson looks around. "It's all so much work and going so fast, I don't even really understand what is totally going on," she says, and laughs.

If she thinks about everything, she'll probably get too stressed out. "I feel like, after this, I'm gonna go home and make my room all minimalist," she says. "Like, a mattress, and that's it."

Follow me on Twitter at @gendyalimurung, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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