Bebe Zeva, the 18-year-old Internet fashion celebrity, recently attended the premiere of a documentary about her. Her blog is called Fated to Be Hated.
NEW YORK — On a recent Friday night, Bebe Zeva, a teenage fashion blogger, journalist and model based in Las Vegas, was dining at the restaurant Lodge with a group of 20-something contributors to the online magazine Thought Catalog.
“I like to concentrate on the cuteness of what I’m eating,” Zeva said. She had switched from coconut and almond vegan ice cream to a skirt steak. In a black minidress, black stockings, a sheer black and navy metallic robe and a floppy black hat, with dozens of long silver and gold chains slung from her neck, she looked like a brunette Stevie Nicks in miniature.
“Don’t leave the house unless you look like you’re going to a funeral,” was Zeva’s style rule for the weekend, which she was spending in the company of Leigh Alexander, a video-gaming journalist. Zeva calls this style Cyber Goth.
When someone at the table asked Zeva her age (she recently turned 18), the novelist and poet Tao Lin said: “She looks a lot more like 12 to me. But she seems like a genius.”
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Zeva was in town for the premiere screening of “Bebe Zeva,” a feature-length video produced by Lin and Megan Boyle, who are selling it through their website, mdmafilms.org. (It was also screened this spring in Houston.)
In January Zeva appeared in Seventeen magazine, dispensing style advice. Later she was named a judge at the WWD Magic trade show, which will be held in her hometown in August. On April 1, Elle’s blog asked, “Is Bebe the new Tavi?” referring to Tavi Gevinson, the 15-year-old who became a New York Fashion Week staple after starting a blog at age 11 from her home in Illinois. Lin helped cast Zeva as Audrey, an ingenue, in a planned film adaptation of his novel “Shoplifting From American Apparel.”
All of this has come naturally to Zeva, who discusses the contours of her “career” with an endearing nonchalance. She was born in 1993 in Miami Beach. “Bebe” was a nickname she earned when her sister, Rachel, wasn’t able to pronounce her real name, which she does not reveal publicly. “Zeva” derives from a Hebrew word that means “she-wolf,” and she adopted it as a screen name at her mother’s insistence that she not use her real name upon joining MySpace. (While Zeva does not use her birth name publicly, she said she intends to legally change her name to Bebe Zeva in the near future.)
With her mother and sister she moved to Springfield, Mass., when she was 6 years old. They stayed for five years, then moved to St. Louis for a year before coming to Las Vegas, where she now lives in a high-rise condo on the Strip.
Zeva’s evolving sense of chic sprang from a period of alienation she suffered during high school, where she found herself surrounded by peers she terms “lifers” — those whose lives are defined by “God, softball and the suburbs.”
“I wore flared jeans and tight-fitting crewneck T-shirts from the likes of Hollister and Abercrombie up until my second semester of freshman year,” Zeva wrote in an email after the night at Lodge, “when I made the conscious decision to pursue the hipster lifestyle.”
It was around this time, Zeva recalled, that she went through a period of “relentlessly” Googling the word “hipster.” On the Web, she discovered the party photographer Mark, the Cobra Snake, and the blog Hipster Runoff, whose author goes by the name Carles. Both men have since become mentors of a sort.
Zeva’s first taste of Internet fame came as a T-shirt model for Hipster Runoff.
“I owe him my career,” she said without irony of Carles, with whom she began a correspondence over MySpace, after her mother gave her blessing. The blog would go on to dub Zeva an “alternative it-girl.”
But her growing Internet fame did not translate into popularity at school.
“I was rejected by the ‘alternative crowd’ at school, or so I assumed by their collective refusal to make eye contact with me, so I chose to become a neo-hippie instead,” she wrote. “I wore ankle-length skirts, horizontal headbands, bundles of necklaces, and no shoes. I carried books by Abbie Hoffman as props.”
In the summer of 2008, she switched to neon V-necks, colored tights, skinny jeans and metallic headbands. Life among the “lifers” soon brought on what Zeva terms “a severe case of depression,” during which she “wore the same Sarah Lawrence hoodie with a pair of dark-wash Abercrombie & Fitch skinny jeans and Target moccasins” for months.
She made her final break from suburban conformity and the “lifers” by transferring to Virtual High School online. She created a profile on Lookbook.nu, a user-generated fashion photography site, which — along with her blog, Fated to Be Hated (http://ftbh.blogspot.com), the title a reference to her unpopularity in high school and among some blog commenters who have accused her of betraying the hipster aesthetic to “go mainstream” — brought her to the attention of magazines like Seventeen and Elle, and convinced Lin and Boyle that she might be a worthy subject for their documentary.
Zeva’s and Lin’s first contact came in October 2009, when Zeva, who had been reading and enjoying “Shoplifting From American Apparel,” purchased an instant-message session with the novelist on eBay.
“What are your ambitions in life?” Lin asked during the exchange that followed.
“I think my ambitions involve ‘proving a lot of people wrong’ and being ‘extremely relevant’ and ‘well known,’ ” Zeva wrote.
Fame remains central to Zeva’s ambitions. She hopes to pursue a career in “fashion, journalism and sociology.” In the fall, she will enroll for a semester at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but she hopes to transfer shortly to Pratt Institute, Parsons, the Fashion Institute of Technology or New York University.
“I’m leaving my heart here and coming back to retrieve it later,” she said at Lodge.
After the meal, the diners were choosing between two parties to attend, one given by Alexander’s musician friends in Bushwick and another at the offices of Verso Books, in Dumbo, to which Lin had been invited.
“Which party will have the more relevant people?” Zeva asked.
“Verso publishes Slavoj Zizek,” Lin said.
Zeva is an admirer of the Slovenian philosopher. “Will he be there?” she asked.
“Probably not,” Lin said.
The crowd hailed cabs and went to Bushwick. They finished the night at Alexander’s apartment nearby.
On Sunday, the day of the premiere of “Bebe Zeva,” Zeva was seated at Gimme! Coffee, on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn, where “Kids” by the group MGMT was playing over the speakers, to Zeva’s displeasure.
“I would expect to hear this in the suburbs, but not in Brooklyn,” she said.
From there she walked over the Williamsburg Bridge to Soho House in the meatpacking district.
On the way, she discussed the unavoidability of cliché in style.
“Nobody can help being a cliché,” she said. “I started out as one cliché, preppy, and since then I’ve cycled through a series of other clichés. Now I’m trying to create a new cliché for the next generation to imitate.”
She was dressed in a Cyber Goth outfit identical to the one she had been wearing Friday night. She caught her robe once on a traffic cone that was blocking off a pothole. At Papaya Dog, on Sixth Avenue in the West Village, she bought chicken wings to take to the premiere.
“Walking into the premiere eating wings is perfect for my personal brand,” she said.