Off the Cuff

Tinsley Mortimer and how Southern Charm thrust her into the New York City social circuit

Tinsley Mortimer and how Southern Charm thrust her into the New York City social circuit

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Tinsley Mortimer signed copies of her new book, Southern Charm Photo by Priscilla Dickson
News_Tinsley Mortimer fan Neiman Marcus May 2012
Tinsley Mortimer, right, and a fan strike a pose at the author's book signing at Neiman Marcus. Photo by Priscilla Dickson
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Southern Charm cocktails featuring Hpnotiq Harmonie premium vodka were served. The company, which sponsors Mortimer's book tour, created the special cocktail for the event. Photo by Priscilla Dickson
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A sugary Candy Bar was set up for the occasion. Photo by Priscilla Dickson
News_Lindley Arnoldy_Tinsley Mortimer_May 2012_signing books
News_Tinsley Mortimer fan Neiman Marcus May 2012
News_Lindley Arnoldy_Tinsley Mortimer_May 2012_Southern Charm Cocktails
News_Lindley Arnoldy_Tinsley Mortimer_May 2012_candy bar

Beauty ambassador, designer, blonde bombshell.

Tinsely Mortimer, the Southern-belle-turned-New-York-City-socialite, may now add 'author' to her ongoing list of endeavors. Her new novel, Southern Charm, tells the tale of a Southern gal like herself thrust into the New York City social circuit. The overall message mirrors her personal mantra: Stay true to who you are.

Mortimer seems to be doing just that; CultureMap's Lindley Arnoldy caught up with this dress-clad, high-heeled girly girl to talk everything from tattoos to Southern Charm.

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First things first, tell me who you're wearing.

This is one of my new favorite designers, I was just tweeting that as we spoke, it’s called Rafael Cennamo … it’s very girly and fun. I have so many book signings to go to, so I was like 'Please send me some things!'

I am currently reading Southern Charm – it’s a fun novel. Tell me, how much of Tinsley Mortimer is in the book?

It definitely parallels my life in a lot of ways. There is a lot of me in Minty for sure. There is actually a lot of me also in the character Tabitha. But it’s fiction; all of the characters are composites of people. My mother is a lot like Scarlett, I’m definitely a lot like Minty … I wish I was actually a lot more like Minty. My friend gave me a Minty nameplate necklace and I wear it. It’s like my other half whenever I want to be bad, even though she is good.

But of course we are always inspired by what we know. New York is so inspiring, all of the people that I have met in New York are so inspiring, that was the whole thing – my perspective being the Southern girl that moved to New York, and all of the people that I met. But it is fiction.

Has it always been an aspiration of yours to write? How did Southern Charm come about?

I have been working in the fashion world for a while and I was originally writing a style guide about girly girl dressing. I wear dresses all of the time. With dresses people feel like you are overdressing, when they are really the easiest thing to wear because they are one piece of clothing versus jeans and t-shirts and the whole thing.

That's how it all started. I had a book agent and met with some publishers, and they suggested that I write a novel. At first I was like, 'No way.' That’s a book. It took about a day and then the writing came so much easier.

The freedom you have when you are writing a novel to be able to create these characters and do and say whatever you want — coming up with the names was so much fun. I’m not saying it was easy, because it was a lot of work and was about two years in the making, but it was easier than telling people what to wear.

Can you tell me a little bit about your designs for Japanese brands Samantha Thavasa and Riccimie. How did you get started in design, specifically in the Japanese market?

I have been working for them for about six years. I was being photographed a lot and was in Women's Wear Daily and these things. The Japanese love American girls, especially American blonde girls, so they noticed me in these magazines. They were opening up a New York store and they were looking for someone to represent the brand in the U.S. and as well as in Japan, and they knew that I would fit well with the Japanese market as well as in New York because I was known in New York.

My factory is actually a block away from where I live now in the garment district area. I go there almost every day and design these bags. I send all of the prototypes to Japan, where they are manufactured, but the major bones of all of it gets made in the U.S.

What exposure did you have to fashion growing up in Virginia?

It started with my mother, who is just so stylish, and me always being so fascinated by my Barbie dolls. My mom was an interior designer so she always had fabric around the house so I would make Barbie doll dresses.

Also my fascination with New York — I had cousins in New York, and we would go up all of the time for Thanksgiving and go to the Macy’s parade and go shopping…It started like that. It was New York and magazines and my mom always letting us wear what we wanted. And I always knew I wanted to be in New York.

How many tattoos do you have and what is their significance? 

Oh Lord, my mom is going to love that one! My first one ever was my former husband’s initials, which I got when we were dating in high school, and I thought it was going to be a really romantic, sexy surprise. This was years ago, so I got it down here [on my hipbone]. It's his initials — R.L.M. Back then where I got it was particularly low because we were wearing our jeans a little bit higher. I know that dates me but I’m 35! And now it’s so high! It just looks embarrassing but you know, it’s a part of my life and I don’t think I am going to remove it. And then the next one is my dogs, Bebe and Bella. 

Who is your favorite designer? Who do you look to for classics or modern style?

For gorgeous, amazing, glam evening dresses, Oscar de la Renta. Honestly though this Rafael Cennemo is making my top list. I also love Versace. I love so many! Obviously Zac Posen, Peter Som and Carolina Herrera and even Alice + Olivia. They have affordable party dresses. Milly and Tibi … I wear a lot of things from all over. I love dresses, any fun and girly party dresses are what I love to wear.

I love the message about staying true to yourself. What aspects of your personality do you feel you have not compromised for your lifestyle or for New York?

Honestly, in the beginning I felt so overwhelmed by New York and these super-chic girls that were wearing a lot of dark clothing. I know that’s sort of a stereotype but they really were. And they had barely washed hair and no make-up. They looked cool; I just can’t pull that off. I’m not saying I didn’t try it, but it wasn’t for me.

I just think you live once so your should feel like yourself and not try to conform. Don’t wear trends … don’t wear leggings or leather pants just because they’re cool. I’m loving those bright colored jeans right now, but I don’t usually like to wear jeans so I don’t even know if I’m going to be into that trend even though I love it. I just think you should wear what you feel good in.

What are your ultimate career goals?

I’m doing a lot of different things and they all work together but ultimately I do want to be more involved in fashion. I would love to have a dress line. I would love to have a very affordable, cute special occasion dress line and even extend that to jewelry and shoes and evening. That’s what I would love. I am always like, 'What’s next?" This time I am really trying to sink in and enjoy this moment.

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Lindley Arnoldy writes the fashion and style blog The Flip Side