Teen fashion maven Tavi Gevinson is 16 going on 30

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Tavi Gevinson

Tavi Gevinson, 16, at her home in Oak Park. She is an influential voice in fashion and teenage magazine publishing. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune / September 18, 2012)

Rookie launched last September using a bank loan obtained by Steve Gevinson. A year later, it has four employees (including Gevinson) and made smart use of Tavi's connections, attracting contributors such as Zooey Deschanel and Judd Apatow. It's advertiser supported, though Gevinson runs the show. Her father said that "as painful as it is to see money going away," Tavi does turn down advertisers she considers a compromise of Rookie's integrity. Ira Glass of "This American Life" is an adviser. Anaheed Alani, 42, Glass' wife and a former Chicago Reader editor, is a Rookie editor. "I always said I wouldn't work for anyone who isn't smarter than me, and it's still the case," Alani said. "I just can't wait until Tavi turns 18 and people stop treating her like a talking dog."

For instance: a newspaper reporter who wants to see a smart, thoughtful magazine editor clean her room. When Tavi came to door, she said she didn't want to clean her room now. When I saw it, I understood.

"Step on anything," she said, as if this were an option. Her bedroom floor was a landfill of posters and books and clothing and glitter and records and magazines and torn pages and scissors and letters and DVDs and cards and CDs and clothes hangers and clothing baskets. She said she came in to start cleaning the other day, but just moved stuff from one shelf to another, defeated. An old turntable sat in a corner, across a pink desk covered in stickers. Strung across the windows, letters from friends. Strung across her bed, a "Sweet 16" banner from her birthday party (for which the dining room was decorated to look like a prom). There was a wreath of paper flowers, bookshelves overstuffed with Nick Hornby, Lynda Barry, Bob Dylan. On the walls, a Mary Ellen Mark photo, music video stills, a Sonic Youth album cover, a Japanese poster of "The Virgin Suicides."

Her room is so full of old things newly discovered it looks Instagrammed — like a 3-D collage of aesthetics and influences. (In fact, that's sort of what Gevinson sends Alani for editorial direction, a monthly thematic art collage.) Not unlike Rookie, the room speaks to her tastes, and these days she is less obsessed with fashion, more smitten with art, books, music, movies. She doesn't want to be the Fashion Girl of Oak Park anymore. Style Rookie is mostly mothballed. "It was fun when I was dressing for myself. I'd get bullied (at school) over it but held this weird little secret that, actually, a big community outside of school knows me."

Halfheartedly filling a plastic shopping bag with trash, Gevinson said, "See my bunk bed? I wish I could get a real bed again, but this place is so disgusting. I haven't slept in here in a year and a half. I sleep in my sister's bed or on the couch. Plus, I'm also just sick of seeing this stuff. I think every time you change as a teenager you become annoyed with the person you used to be. When I was a sophomore and a freshman I had more time to channel my creativity into what my room looked like or putting together awesome outfits that I would wear to school. Now I value sleep more and would rather wear a pair of jeans."

Alani, who lives in New York, said her time on Rookie doesn't really kick in until Gevinson gets home from school. Gevinson does her homework, then Alani and Gevinson work (remotely) on Rookie into the wee hours.

Gevinson told me she is planning to take a year off between high school and college, probably to make movies. She said she walked by an apartment building the other day and thought for a hot minute about getting her own place. She worries, though, that she'll get permanently derailed and never go to college. She worries about being stuck in her teenage years with Rookie. And, until recently, she worried about her honors math class. "I switched out the other day," she said. "I'm already taking three honors classes. I know it's cliched and I hate perpetuating a stereotype, but I hate math and I'm not good at it and I don't want to get better. I don't need the extra stress in my life. My dad and I argued about it. I said, 'I'm responsible for people's jobs! Rookie has to be good. If I don't do my math, it hurts me. But if I neglect Rookie, it makes other people's jobs harder!' He said no, it makes my job harder, and I said, 'No! It doesn't! I have no interest in math, Dad!'"

For his part, Steve Gevinson said he hates seeing the weight of pressure bearing down on his daughter. He would like to see her to go to college, but also admits: "Unlike our other daughters, unlike a lot of people who go to college, Tavi doesn't need to go to college to figure out what she wants to do or figure out who she is. Tavi knows all that. If anything I want her to go to get a liberal arts education and read good books."

As for the room …

Tavi said, "It'll be new crap, just different crap. The guy in 'High Fidelity' says books, records, movies — these things matter. If you raise yourself on pop culture, you get attached to memories you don't want to get rid of. I'm not ready to move on. I just think I want a room to remind me of all the good things people create."

A week later, I got an email from Gevinson: She was dressing up again. "I also don't think I want to make films when I grow up anymore. I think I want to do, like, eight things, but it's probably better not to say what they are."

cborrelli@tribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

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