Tavi Gevinson just finished a plate of spaghetti with her parents at home in the leafy Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., on Monday night when the 14-year-old blogger got on the phone to talk about the Web site and magazine she’s launching with Jane Pratt.
Gevinson said the project started when she got an e-mail from the former Sassy and Jane editor in chief after she posted photographs from Sassy on her blog, Style Rookie, 11 months ago.
This story first appeared in the March 23, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I had been talking about this magazine that I wanted to start, and she told me that she was starting this Web site and that the magazine could be kind of a branch under the JanePratt.com umbrella for teenaged people — girls,” Gevinson said. “It was kind of perfect.”
And, like that, the young fan became a business partner.
“It’s obviously such an honor to work with her,” said Gevinson of Pratt. “When we actually sit down and discuss the projects and everything, it doesn’t feel like she’s talking down to me or like I should be so honored to be working with her, even though I am. The moment we sit down and start sharing ideas, it becomes a partnership.”
An intriguing one. Gevinson is young enough to be Pratt’s daughter, yet she’s an Internet star feted by the likes of Anna Wintour and designers worldwide who has received more than 50,000 unique visitors on her blog in a single month. Pratt has launched and lost two magazines and two TV shows, and has kept a relatively low profile since she left Jane in 2005 while hosting a Sirius radio show on Friday nights and raising her young daughter. So the question is: who needs whom?
The answer should become clear soon enough. In the next two months, she will launch JanePratt.com, a Web site aimed at the gulf between the Cosmopolitans and Jezebels of the world. Then, in the summer, she will team up with Gevinson to introduce a magazine and a Web site for teenaged girls.
“The publishing world has been a little empty without Jane the last few years,” said Marisa Meltzer, who co-authored “How Sassy Changed My Life” in 2007 with Kara Jesella. “People are constantly asking me what she’s doing and I’ve never known. But that seems to be her pattern.”
“Part of me just wants Jane magazine back, and Sassy too,” said Mary H.K. Choi, the founding editor of Missbehave magazine, a latter-day Sassy, and a senior editor at MTV Style. “And I just can’t imagine that this would be the exact same beast I guess. How could it be?”
In the tradition of Jane and Sassy, JanePratt.com will be built around voice-y, original writing. A mock tag line for the site has been pinned up in the offices of JanePratt.com on 28th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan — “Slutty, Selfish, Self-Absorbed,” a swipe at Cosmopolitan’s “fun, fearless female” ethos. From the start, the site will be organized into different verticals, such as health, fitness, beauty, fashion, DIY and entertainment, according to one source who discussed plans for the site with Pratt.
Pratt will also be resurrecting a few elements from her now-defunct magazines, including her Ask Jane column; It Happened to Me, a confessional reader write-in column, and other light-hearted features that incorporate photography like Makeunder and Dopey Model Poses, written by Andrea Linett, the creative director of eBay fashion who was a receptionist at Sassy when it launched. Pratt has also, according to tradition, hired a columnist to write from a guy’s point of view.
The usually out-there and verbose Pratt declined to comment about her plans through her publicist, but earlier this year she explained her interest in working online in a statement for the Web site of Say Media, the company bankrolling her launch. “Everything I’ve done in my career has been about gathering strong voices and making them more mass,” she wrote. “This is the perfect fit. It feels like the technology has finally caught up with what I always wanted to do.” Say Media formed at the end of 2010 in the merger of a blog-hosting network and an Internet advertising company that pioneered new ways to siphon money off of the Internet through YouTube overlays and ad valuations based on engagement, not just views or impressions.
Pratt has brought on two staffers: senior editor Emily McCombs from Asylum and Lemondrop, and beauty editor Cat Marnell, a former Lucky staffer and contributor to Self magazine. Amy Kellner, who Pratt hired from Vice magazine as her executive editor, abandoned the launch earlier this winter when a photo editor position became available at Hugo Lindgren’s New York Times Magazine. Freelance writers, out-of-office editors and interns will also contribute to the site.
As Pratt has grown up, so has her audience, according to Jauretsi Saizarbitoria, a close friend of Pratt’s who worked with her as an entertainment editor at Jane magazine and has talked with her about plans for JanePratt.com. “She’s kind of going for the girl that is fortysomething and doesn’t feel fortysomething, which is a lot of women in New York. I know I can attest to that,” said Saizarbitoria. “The person is not accepting the fact that they’re turning into an old person.”
And Pratt still has a strong fan base in the women who gravitated towards Sassy and Jane.
“If you think about the writers at Jezebel and everything, they are people who read Sassy when they were teenagers,” said Gevinson. “All of those New York writers in their 20s or 30s will probably tell you that Sassy made them want to work at a magazine or be a writer.”
Anna Holmes, the founding editor of Jezebel, and Jessica Coen, the site’s editor in chief, said they were both diehard Sassy fans. Coen remembers when they changed the Sassy paper stock “from matte to glossy,” and Holmes recounted seeing editors from the magazine at Newark Airport during college on her way between New York University and her home in California. They were “like rock stars.”
“In terms of the Web, I think Jane Pratt really pioneered using that fun democratic, conversational tone,” said Marie Claire beauty editor Erin Flaherty, who was hired by Pratt at Jane magazine at age 22 and appointed as Jane’s beauty and healthy director at 23. “Actually a lot of today’s women’s blogs owe that tone to the Sassy and Jane school.”
Nevertheless, Pratt’s foray onto the Web has its share of skeptics. Even though she created a style that worked in print in the Eighties and Nineties, does she have enough Web smarts to make it in the new decade?
“I read that it was going to be called JanePratt.com, which I immediately rolled my eyes at because I don’t think she’s a brand name anymore,” said Holmes of Jezebel. “There’s a significant portion of the younger generation who doesn’t know who she is.”
“I think branding it Jane Pratt is going to be her biggest challenge,” agreed Coen. “The name Jane Pratt means a lot to women my age — women in their 30s, women in their 40s. It’s a completely generic name to younger women.”
“I am interested in the fact that it’s called JanePratt.com,” Choi said. “I find it interesting.”
Pratt’s track record with different media projects also begs the question of whether her desire to build herself as a brand has detracted from her efficacy as an editor. Her early success as the 24-year-old editor of Sassy magazine led to a show on Fox, “Jane,” in the early Nineties. The show was canceled after one season — Ricki Lake took over her time slot — and Jane decamped to Lifetime to start “The Jane Pratt Show,” which ran for five months. In 2007, after she left Jane magazine, she started “Jane Radio” on Sirius, one channel away from Howard Stern.
“The book that Marisa and Kara wrote about Sassy was both unsurprising in its depiction of Jane, I suppose, but also depressing,” said Holmes. “They told the story of a person who was involved intimately in the beginning and then became progressively more concerned with socializing, or her famous friends, and that the bulk of the magazine seemed to be executed by the people underneath her.”
Enter Gevinson. Attaching herself to the 14-year-old blogger, soon to be 15, was a shrewd move for Pratt. Gevinson lends Pratt’s new digital empire Internet muscle and intrigue from the growing fashion community online.
“I think Tavi is kind of standing up and saying I’m down with Jane, she’s totally got cred, she’s got integrity and that’s going to give Jane a lot of horsepower,” said Saizarbitoria, Pratt’s friend from the Jane days. “That type of integrity doesn’t just come from nowhere. As much as Jane has equally earned it, it helps that Tavi is standing beside her saying it.”
Gevinson’s share of the growing Jane Pratt empire, a Web site and a magazine that are separate from JanePratt.com, will speak to a younger set.
“When I was talking with Jane about how I would be able to run it, we were thinking about how, you know, I have school and stuff,” Gevinson said, “but that actually helped because the people reading it, the teenage girls, have school too. When you think about news sites and everything, they’re being updated constantly. In our case, I think it’s nicer to have fewer updates but features that have a lot of substance and are really special.”
Gevinson’s site will be styled as more of an online magazine than a blog, featuring original commentary, photography, poetry, fiction and interviews from teenagers, in monthly installments around a given theme. She gave an example: “Maybe something like teen movies, and then there are tributes through fashion editorials and someone writes about what this movie meant to them and that type of thing and maybe we interview someone who was in one.” Gevinson said there will also be a few contributors in their 20s and 30s.
“I have to admit I’m more excited about the teen project with Tavi than the women’s blog,” Meltzer said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely excited to see what Jane does with a ladyblog, but the teen market seems especially barren right now, both in print and online. Plus, I’m a huge supporter of Tavi’s and I think she’s a genius. Jane is really smart to align herself with her, both because Tavi has great taste and is smart, but also because she’s an Internet native.”
The print iteration of Gevinson’s yet-to-be-named project will appear twice or three times a year, timed with the fashion seasons. Elizabeth Spiridakis, who became friends with Gevinson through her own fashion blog, White Lightning, and recently joined Bon Appétit as art director for Adam Rapoport’s relaunch, will help Gevinson with the magazine’s design. “It would be great to have the first print issue out for the fall in time for back to school, but we’ll have to see,” Gevinson said. “I’ve learned to give it a lot of time.
“It will be targeted at teenage girls,” she said. “I think we need our own thing. I seriously think ‘how do we keep the adults out of the comment section,’ not in a mean way, but it’s not really the point.”