As I approached the steps of the Plaza, a frightening thought occurred to me: I couldn’t remember what Tinsley Mortimer looked like. Of course I’d seen her before. Who hadn’t? But there are so many pretty blonde socialites these days, they all sort of blend together. It didn’t help that Ms. Mortimer had taken a two-year sabbatical from the New York social scene, and was only recently reemerging. Maybe I should just quickly check my smartphone for her photo…no, that would be too obvious, what if she turned out to be standing right next to me?
Fortunately, it turns out it’s actually impossible to miss Tinsley. There she was at the top of the steps, wearing a Juicy Couture dress and a white coat that she said was “from Japan.” She was perfectly coiffed, and wore a bit of makeup. Commoners give her a wide berth, because she just looks like someone important. Over high tea at the Palm Court, we ate the tiny little food brought on an Eloise Tea platter: finger sandwiches, scones with cream and preserves, cupcakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, choice of tea, and a cookie with a little girl’s face on it.
“I just love Eloise,” Ms. Mortimer gushed.
“Are you still friends with her?” I was about to ask, before Ms. Mortimer admitted that she would tear out the pages of the Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight children’s books as a child. “I’m going to name my daughter Eloise,” she sighed. Then she quickly glanced over at my recorder. “If I ever have a daughter, that is.”
Ms. Mortimer has a right to fear society columnists: she’s spent most of her social career being dissected in Page Six, Gawker, and occasionally, The New York Observer. A New York magazine story in 2010 that exposed Valentine and Olga Rei as the secret proprietors of SocialRank.com didn’t help her image either. After all, she had held the No. 1 spot for a year on the site, and coverage of her well-publicized fights with Olivia Palermo were a big part of its appeal. And despite all the mean comments written about her on the site, once it was taken down, Ms. Mortimer seemed to lose a valuable toehold in society.
That was also the year that Ms. Mortimer—who is, depending who you’re talking to, an aristocratic Southern belle, a con artist, a social climber, a gold-digger, one of the new crop of socialites, one of the older crops of socialites, related to Thomas Jefferson, a Columbia graduate, someone who lied about graduating from Columbia, or all of the above—made an egregious sin in the eyes of New York’s most powerful. She starred in a reality show portraying herself as a socialite.
High Society ran for one season on CW. It was the straw that broke the couture camel’s back. The year before, she had separated from her husband and high school sweetheart, Topper Mortimer, relinquishing many of the rights to the inner circles of actual high society.
Right around the time High Society was cancelled and SocialiteRank went dark, Tinsley Mortimer disappeared in a cloud of pink smoke.
That’s basically all I knew going in to meet Ms. Mortimer. Oh, and that she made handbags, was considered a fashion something (designer? icon? stylist?), and was huge in Japan. We also knew she had a novel coming out from Scribner in May, Southern Charm, about a woman very much like Ms. Mortimer, who comes to New York and finds herself the center of unwanted attention when the media decides to pronounce her the new “It” girl.
Ms. Mortimer clearly knew New York’s social scene inside and, well, out. We asked her for some advice. How does one become a socialite?
Ms. Mortimer attributed her early success to her easy-going disposition. “I was just a little more open to people,” she said. “Not friendly, but eager to meet people. People in New York can be a little stand-offish, and there’s definitely that Southern hospitality thing I had going for me. I wore color, and everyone else was wearing black, which made me get more noticed. It wasn’t a conscious effort…that’s just how I dressed.”
She wanted to make it clear that she wasn’t “walking away consciously” from the spotlight in 2010, though she admitted that High Society was a disaster.
“I didn’t have an agent at the time, or a manager,” Ms. Mortimer said. “I had been approached by other projects, but the CW seemed like a natural fit after I did Gossip Girl. The first day of shooting, I show up and they introduce me to all these people who are supposed to be my ‘friends’ for the show. And I’ve never met them before.
“It was a difficult time in my life,” she continued. “I was separating from my husband. We were together for seven years, but we had known each other since high school. I had my reality show, I had to move apartments…it was just very stressful. Because I got married so early, I feel like I missed most of my 20s. So in my 30s and with my new boyfriend, I just wanted to have fun.”
Her relationship with Brian Mazza got her through that difficult period (and the subsequent years). “We recently broke up though,” Ms. Mortimer said. “You’ve probably seen it in the papers.”
We asked Ms. Mortimer about her female friends. Namely, how does someone even make friends in a scene driven by beautiful ball gowns and Page Six drama? It seemed a pertinent question after one of her so-called buddies ratted her out to the Styles section for being excluded from a dinner party at Lavo.
“Oh well, I don’t have many close female friends nowadays,” Ms. Mortimer said. “I’m pretty private. I have my sister, who is in Europe. And I have my mother.”
She nibbled a cucumber sandwich.
“But when I used to go out, I’d become friendly with girls because you used to see the same ones everywhere: Palm Beach, at the same parties, on the same committees as you.” Ms. Mortimer ticked off the important charity functions: Save Venice, The Frick, The Met Costume gala.
She said she lost a lot of those relationships after her break-up with Topper. Not that she’s blaming anyone. “They’re just at different life-stages…a lot have children and busy lives,” she said. “Some of Topper’s friends have divorced from their significant others. Those ladies and I all like to get together and call ourselves…”
“The First Wives Club?” I ventured.
“Yes! How did you know?”
Ms. Mortimer has moved on from all of that nonsense. She’s forgiven former Page Six reporter Paula Froelich, whom she said once went on High Society and “apologized” for never taking the time to get to know her better before taking her down in the New York Post. She’s forgiven the Reis for creating a forum for anonymous commenters to bash her, because after they shut down SocialiteRank, they wrote her a note of apology and agreed to the tiny favor she asked in return.
“I did get them to give me a list of all the IP addresses and stuff of people who commented on my biography,” she said with a smile.
Still, as often happens with forbidden knowledge, Ms. Mortimer’s snooping just made things more awkward. She discovered that the person trashing her and her relations online was actually an old friend of the family.
I asked if she had confronted the person, whom she declined to name.
“No, it would make things too awkward for my parents,” Ms. Mortimer said. Being the ever-polite Southern belle, Ms. Mortimer still smiles and talks to this family friend to avoid any potential discomfort.
As for the anonymous acquaintance quoted in The Times article, Ms. Mortimer said, “I guess I don’t really care. I’m not really interested anymore about who these people are and what they were saying about me.”
Which isn’t to say she hasn’t narrowed down the possible culprits.
“It was just really dumb of them, because what if I actually remembered who I had dinner with?” she scoffed.
We had barely made a dent in the Eloise platter, so I asked Tinsley if I could take them home with me if she got the Eloise cookie. That was fine with her.
Later, I would let my boyfriend have the chocolate strawberries, but only on the condition that he eat them slowly. “It’s Plaza food,” I explained.
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