Rodarte's collection for Target launched last week, which for die-hard fashion lovers is shopping nirvana. Now anyone can own a piece of the label's sunshine-meets-goth aesthetic, with spidery lace sweaters and stockings, tulle blouses and slip dresses priced $9.99 (Dh36,69) to $79.99 (Dh293,79), instead of the four figures that Rodarte's clothes typically command.
To get the word out, designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy didn't tap red-carpet fans Reese Witherspoon or Kirsten Dunst, or vintage guru Cameron Silver, who helped put them on the fashion map. They didn't go to Vogue, or any other glossy magazine that has championed their collections, which have been inspired by things as disparate as horror movies and California condors. Instead, they turned to Tavi Gevinson, a 13-year-old blogger and muse from the suburbs of Chicago, to star in a behind-the-scenes video about the line on the Target website.
A self-described "dork that sits inside all day wearing awkward jackets and pretty hats, scatters black petals on [Comme des Garçons founder] Rei Kawakubo's doorsteps and serenades her in rap", Gevinson launched her Style Rookie blog in March 2008. In her early posts, it was refreshing to read about someone who thought of the world as her costume box, who wore guitar straps as belts, used "thrifting" as a verb and "Rodarte-slashed" her second-hand sweaters because she couldn't have the real thing.
Her runway critiques were so thoughtful that people assumed she was a fake. Then, she took time off from school to attend New York Fashion Week in September, chaperoned by her father, getting her picture snapped as she sat front row at shows. The same month, she landed on the cover of Pop magazine and was featured in the pages of Love magazine, interviewed by Pixie Geldof. In November, she sat with the Mulleavys, designer Hedi Slimane and Pop editor Dasha Zhukova at the Museum of Contemporary Art's 25th anniversary gala in Los Angeles. The blogger wore a borrowed Rodarte dress and sweater so expensive they are out of reach for most designer customers.
By year's end, Tavi had penned a column about the spring 2010 runway shows for the January issue of Harper's Bazaar, on newsstands now. She's met Marc Jacobs and Yohji Yamamoto, travelled to Japan to visit Kawakubo's studio, and been gifted with designer clothes months before the collections land in stores. She even has her own T-shirt design for sale on her blog.
For the Rodarte for Target video, the pint-sized prodigy was filmed backstage at the Rodarte runway show, interviewing bold-facers such as Elijah Wood and Cecilia Dean. She also accompanied the designers to North Dakota, sitting on hay bales and exchanging bon mots during the shoot for the collection look book.
They make quite a trio — Tavi, the teenage internet tastemaker challenging fashion's elite, and the Mulleavy sisters, whose Left Coast vantage point, lack of formal training and unconventional business plan (what business plan?) haven't been liabilities but rather assets in their unlikely success. Like bumblebees who didn't know they weren't supposed to fly, they charmed us with their naivete and DIY spirit. "Jaded" was not a word in their vocabulary. They were the perfect antidote to fashion's freebie-fuelled, celebrity-perfected, big-brand era.
In just one year, Tavi (and a host of other bloggers) went from obscurity to celebrity, and Rodarte went from winner of the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Emerging Womenswear Designer of the Year Award to winner of the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award.
But what happens next year? It is tempting to think that Tavi (who originally went by the nom de blog of Tavi Williams) will be a short-lived sensation, the product of a culture gone internet crazy, in which bloggers are getting book deals and clothing lines while seasoned journalists and industry vets get laid off. An unlikely muse, she's not perfectly coiffed, she hasn't paid her dues, fetched Anna Wintour's lunch, worked a summer for free, spent herself into debt to look the part, or experienced the sting of rejection.
And sure enough, the baby blogger backlash has begun. Elle's Anne Slowey told |New York magazine's the Cut blog, "I'm sort of fascinated in the same way the world was with JT LeRoy. You look at her video, and the writing doesn't sync up with the way she talks about fashion. When I watched that video; it smacked of this ethereal vagueness — this vacant-like quality where it was like everyone was on Vicodin. Like everyone was uncomfortably dumb except for me." Designer Christopher Kane told British Vogue, "No one who wants to read a serious review of a show is going to look at what a 14-year-old thinks."
Except that the kid (if she is indeed tapping out her own stuff, and we have no reason to believe she isn't) does have a way with words. In the Bazaar column, she describes Francisco Costa's dresses for Calvin Klein as looking like "they were stained by tears". She's got personal style, too, in that ugly-pretty, Prada-Marc Jacobs way.
But Tavi was a darling because she was on the outside. And now that she's been handed the fashion world on a silver platter, she is looking less and less like the kid everybody fell in love with.
No matter. At her age, there's more than enough time for a second act.