Petite Tween Becomes Big Voice In Fashion World

Tavi Gevinson sat in a west suburban cafe consuming cheese pizza, hot chocolate and a fruit roll-up - the type of meal you'd expect from a 13-year-old.

As she nibbled, a receptionist from her doctor's office came over to say hello, while a waitress wondered aloud if she was related to another teenager in town.

"As you can see, my fame is extraordinary here," Tavi said, her 4-foot-6 frame barely visible behind the table. "Seriously, no one around here has any idea who I am."

No idea that since she began blogging about fashion from her suburban bedroom at age 11, Tavi has become an international sensation, viewed as one of the most popular - and controversial - figures in the world of high fashion.

No idea that when she's not studying for a science test, having sleepovers with friends or attending summer camp, the 8th grader can be found in the front row at New York's Fashion Week, adorning the cover of ultra-hip Pop magazine and helping to launch a new fashion line for Target.

The daughter of a high school English teacher, Tavi combined her razor-sharp writing skills, precocious attitude and Internet savvy into a high profile in the fashion community, using her youth and small size as bold exclamation points.

"She's only 13, but Tavi Gevinson has the fashion world enraptured," gushed Harper's Bazaar in the introduction to a column Tavi penned for the January issue, making her the youngest writer ever published in the magazine.

Like a pint-sized suburban superhero, Tavi passes her days as a typical middle school student before transforming by night into a celebrated author and star of her blog, Style Rookie. She posts artistic photos of herself dressed in cutting-edge outfits and serves up sophisticated musings on the latest fashion trends, drawing nearly 30,000 viewers each day.

She's a tween phenomenon that would have been impossible before the Internet, but her success is not just virtual. To the dismay of some members of fashion's old guard, Tavi has recently leaped into the scene on which she comments, submitting to a photo shoot in London, hanging with elite fashion designers in Tokyo and hobnobbing with singer Gwen Stefani, actress Chloe Sevigny and other celebrity guests at an event at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

"There are two stories here," said her mother, Berit Engen. "The 13-year-old who lives in our house, and the 13-year-old who is being taken very seriously in this world of fashion."

Some in the industry suggest the young blogger could be more novelty than anything, but Harper's, Target and others are betting on her.

Asked if she was worried about being used as a gimmick, Tavi said she would never be a part of anything that she does not admire. She has said no to 95 percent of interview requests. She's declined reality show pitches, book deals and other opportunities.

And she says she will stop blogging if it causes her grades to suffer.

The youngest of three sisters, Tavi has grown up on a quiet, tree-lined street in a community west of Chicago. (She asked that her specific suburb go unnamed so that she might remain low profile in her hometown.)

It's a world with a dress code (her school prohibits skirts with hems above the knee and tank tops with straps less than three fingers wide) and limited activity. Tavi said she frequents the same three places: her local Borders, a record shop and a Salvation Army thrift store. Most of her socializing takes place at sleepovers, theater camp and bar and bat mitzvahs.

"That's why the Internet is so important," Tavi said.

It has given her an endless supply of music, fashion and other types of art. At her keyboard, she has developed expertise on a wide range of subjects - from Bob Dylan, her favorite singer, to Japan's Rei Kawakubo, one of her fashion design heroes.

The inspiration for Style Rookie came, she said, in 6th grade. A friend's teenage sister had launched a Web site in which she posted critiques of fashion trends and photographs of herself modeling.

 and the TV show "America's Next Top Model." A blog seemed like an escape from the Abercrombie, pre-teen scene.

"Life is boring in 6th grade," said Tavi, whose blog debuted in March 2008 with a short entry titled The New Girl in Town. "It seemed like it would liven things up."

Her photography, writing voice and sense of fashion rapidly evolved.

Inspired by designers who aim for wearable art with "no rules, no restrictions, no pleasing anyone," she posted photos of her of herself clad in distinctive outfits - such as a Polka dot skirt, tuxedo blazer and men's shoes - and commentary at once youthful and sophisticated.

"So much sweater and knit and grandpa-ness," she writes of a Yohji Yamamoto menswear line in a typical post. "I love it mostly for the model alone. He looks so mysterious, and like he should be sitting on a bench in the rain reciting Poe or playing a cello on the roof of a train." The entries came easy.

"I never really liked writing before because at school I never got to write about what I like," Tavi said. "With my blog, it's my thoughts, like my brain is being translated onto the computer."

She became part of a community of young fashion bloggers gaining media attention in 2008. That summer, the New York Times featured several bloggers, including Tavi, in its fashion magazine. TeenVogue published a Q and A with her in the fall, proclaiming that "with her dead-on style observations and fearless fashion sense that puts even the most daring fashionistas to shame, this outspoken wunderkind is one to watch."

Since then, Style Rookie's traffic has grown from 2,000 viewers to 29,000 each day, and Tavi's visibility in the fashion world has skyrocketed in a whirlwind of developments that felt, at times, like waking dreams to her.

She's courted by designers and editors alike, made evident by her column in Harper's Bazaar.

"Bazaar readers expect the unexpected, and when I met Tavi at the Marc Jacobs show in September, I knew they would relate to her passion for fashion - the fact that she is 13 only makes her insights more interesting," Kristina O'Neill, executive editor of Harper's Bazaar, wrote in an e-mail.

But what makes her remarkable to O'Neill and others has also made her an object of criticism.

Some observers have questioned the legitimacy of her writing, suggesting that her parents or other adults are behind it. Earlier this month, an editor at Elle magazine wondered to New York Magazine whether there wasn't a "team Tavi" at work.

"It's really annoying," Tavi said. "People complain that my generation is stupid, but when I show that I have a brain, they call me a fake."

In reality, her parents didn't even know about the blog until she received an interview request from the New York Times, she said. Her father has accompanied her to New York, London and Los Angeles, but he tried to give her space at events so as not to embarrass her.

To Tavi, the whispers and barbs from the fashion world remind her of middle school.

Her friend Spencer Tweedy says Tavi does a good job of handling the pressure.

"She's really amazing at functioning as a kid while doing all this amazing stuff," Spencer said.

But Tavi sometimes wonders how long she'll be able to handle the spotlight.

"Don't be surprised if one day I go all J.D. Salinger on everyone," she said.

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