Star Power

07.12.14

Tavi Gevinson: From Teen Fashion Queen to Broadway Star

Bloggers like Tavi Gevinson have parlayed their brand into celebrity and collaborations with Fortune 500 companies. Why do celebrities who emulate these bloggers fare far less successfully?

It was over a breakfast of bagels and toaster-warmed pancakes two weeks ago that I realized teen blogger-turned-ROOKIE magazine editor Tavi Gevinson was a big deal now in the world outside fashion—I was hearing her upcoming Broadway debut (in August, she will play Jessica in This is Our Youth), being advertised on NPR.

I’ve known Gevinson for about six or seven years now in numerous capacities—as a friend, then blogger, then boss—and now I will know her as a Broadway actress.

She has done somewhat of the unthinkable—transforming from a bonafide fashion blogger into a celebrity in her own right, proving that the space between the two is not as large as we may think. Tavi isn’t a blogger anymore, and she hasn’t been for a while; she’s leveraged her writing style and feminist worldview into other forums, be it ROOKIE, a Cole Haan campaign, a TED talk, and more. She, and many of her blogging peers (think Leandra Medine of Man Repeller and Aimee Song of Song of Style) have capitalized on their personal style blogs, turning ‘outfit of the day posts’ and instagrams into best sellers and big brand collaborations. They’ve become celebrities in their own right—garnering international adoration and loyalty that translates into sales, invitations abroad, and collaborations with Fortune 500 companies. And judging by the loyalty and content of fan interaction in the blogosphere, bloggers have the strange ability to show they're 'just like us,' but better.

Why is it, though, that the reverse has such a difficulty gaining success? Why do celebrity-turned-bloggers have comment threads that double as dead zones and collaborations that are few and far between? Try as they might to connect to their readership via blogpost of their outfits, something feels inherently false.

“Blogging is a lifestyle agenda that can pay the bills. It becomes a serious business of frivolous things.”

In the first wave of fashion blogging—around 2007, for the Tumblr generation—it was the typical 'nobody' fashion blogger who treated the internet as a diary of not just personal style, but of life. Fashion blogging often involved a tripod and a pigeon-toed stance in a public park; blog managers didn’t exist yet, and commission from merely talking about products you liked was a far-flung dream.

From this first wave emerged the long-time industry insiders now easily recognized on a first name-basis on the fashion scene. There's Bryanboy (also known as Bryan Grey Yambao), a Filipino fashion blogger who once boasted of making $100,000 a year blogging (a small sum in light of today’s numbers); he's now a regular on America’s Next Top Model. There was a time Bryanboy frequented the livejournal community fashinfags, a forum many fashion insiders like to pretend they don’t know about (we all had to start somewhere, after all). Since then, blogging has become much less personal and a lot more marketable.

The Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine started her blog at the behest of friends goading her to turn her “man repelling” fashion agenda into an internet sensation. She started years after blogging became established, but blew up in no time with massive success—and marriage. In interviews, she’s unafraid to admit she went into blogging with a business plan of action in hand. She’s since emerged as the kind of blogger who gets $50,000 appearance fees and a book deal to boot.

Most top tier fashion bloggers are “slashies”—their blog is house to their brand, but not the whole kit and caboodle: growing out of them stems book deals, brand collaborations, TV spots and hosting gigs for designers and retailers around the world. Vanessa Hudgens might have a campaign for Bongo, but blogger Elin Kling designed a collaboration for H&M. Kylie and Kendall Jenner designed a line for PacSun, while Youtube Vlogger Bethany Mota has a line for Aéropostale. You’d think apples and oranges, until you realize the engagement for bloggers-turned-celebs is unspeakably higher. When Michelle Phan posts a video, it racks up millions of hits in a matter of days. When L’Oreal itself uploads a video, they should only be so lucky. Celebrity and traditional brand engagement is a dying breed compared to the allure of the normal girl, the girl next door who happens to vlog or blog to a million and a half subscribers.

140711-sicardi-fashion-bloggers-embed
From left, bloggers Bryanboy, Rumi Neely, Leandra Medine, Natalie Joos, Elin Kling and Hanneli Mustaparta attend the Phillip Lim Spring 2014 fashion show in New York City. (Wendell Teodoro/WireImage, via Getty)

The allure of the “every girl” would explain why no one ever talks about the blog of the classically notorious celebrity Lindsay Lohan. Yes, she has one. Her namesake blog is exactly what you’d expect it to be: meta references to Mean Girls, links to quintessential Californian fashion brands and blogs like I Love Wildfox and Knight Cat and Studded Hearts, a signature sign off of “xx L” and copious amounts of #hashtags.

All that is right next to small captions of her various magazine covers and fashion shoots. Lohan is returning to fashion slowly after her failed fashion collection—this time in more traditional ways, via fashion shows and NYFW parties.

Many celebrities, it seems, are saddling up into fashion muse side jobs. Rachel Zoe operated for years in the space between celebrity and insider, with her own now defunct show, current website, and franchise to boot. Revenge star Ashley Ording has had a relatively popular fashion blog for years on top of her acting gigs on ABC and bit roles in movies.

Celebrities are starring in fashion campaigns and sitting front row at shows: Rita Ora for Roberto Cavalli, Harry Styles at Burberry, and Rihanna at Prada—who paid her  $100,000 for her time. It’s a common occurance, and celebrity fashion campaigns are becoming more and more common, often overtaking the positions of supermodels for the roles. But celebrity bloggers don’t maintain the loyal following that fashion bloggers have garnished. Rachel Zoe’s Instagram might get 10,000 likes a post—and she’s arguably more “famous” than Aimee Song, who can easily get twice as that.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we see traditional celebrities too solidly as tabloid fodder and less accessible compared to the fashion blog celebutante; this is interesting, considering the money and management that often goes into a full time personal style blogger’s daily existence.

Fashion blogging costs money to make money, and a lot of it. A sponsored outfit post on a fashion blog can get $5,000—a single Instagram mentioning a brand can be rejected by top players in the game even if it’s a $3,000 offer (see Rumi Neely, of Fashion Toast), store events can hitch tens of thousands of dollars and blogger-designed fashion collaborations, an undisclosed amount. 

With fashion bloggers, there’s still a guise of a “normal” life, even if it’s editorialized: it’s a snapshot of a day, a look, a girl. More and more often that entire post is subsidized by free or gifted clothes and the locations are sponsored, too.

Bloggers turned celebrities might be style stars now, but they feel more accessible than Hollywood stars. They’re accessible, with Instagram best friends and public cliques of their own. They could be “us.” Professional bloggers essentially get paid to shill the clothes they like and travel the world—to be influencers. Blogging is a lifestyle agenda that can pay the bills, it becomes a serious business of frivolous things.

But in the scope of celebrities, it’s just a side job: it helps get the word out and a pretty penny in their pockets. Just imagine how many interns run the scene that powered Gwenyth Paltrow’s GOOP.

The separation point between celebrities turned bloggers is that we were not introduced to them through the upward climb – they’ll never be the underdog we root for and watch bloom, and perhaps that’s why their blogs are always the butt of our jokes.

GOOP might have been an empire of healthy eating but it’s mostly a lifestyle we make fun of because it’s so far removed from what we can afford to bother with ourselves. When it comes to celebrity bloggers, there’s a layer of suspicious there: of course they’re well dressed—they’ve got a stylist, naturally. Of course they can eat super healthy, they’ve got a personal chef. Being perfect is part of their job. For bloggers turned celebrities, it’s a bit like rooting for your successful big sisters: you remember her first trip to Zara, and now she’s on some red carpet. The opulence isn’t too far removed.

While there may never be another Tavi—sorry to the ten-year old would be style stars—there will likely be many more Lindsays, fading celebrities grasping at the straws of relevance for that moment of blogger stardom. If everyone’s a blogger now, we still turn our heads to the most “authentic” storyline: we want to believe in the real girl, even if our real girls now wear gifted Chanel.