New York society is a world unique unto itself. One of its most fascinating aspects are the “it girls” in the elite’s party scene. Two of the most famous it girls of all time were former The Real Housewives of New York City star Tinsley Mortimer and fashion influencer Olivia Palermo.
Unless you follow fashion influencers or are familiar with the Big Apple’s society circuit, Mortimer is arguably the more famous of the two women. In the mid-2000s, the Bravo star ruled over high society, with her 2002 wedding to Topper Mortimer, whose family was already well established in the elite’s social circles, cementing the native Virginian’s status. At the height of her popularity, per Refinery 29, Dior even named a lipstick after her: Tinsley Pink. Before starring on RHONY, Mortimer also landed a gig on the short-lived 2010 show High Society on The CW.
Meanwhile, Palermo was born in New York City and grew up on the Upper East Side and in Greenwich, Conn. Her father is real estate developer Douglas Palermo, and her mother is interior designer Lynn Hutchings, per Your Next Shoes. Palermo gained notoriety when she sued the website, Socialite Rank, for releasing a letter that was proven to be false (more on that below). MTV fans may remember her from the 2008 TV series, The City, which co-starred former The Hills star Whitney Port. But having long run in the same circles, what’s the truth about Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer’s relationship?
The website that reportedly ignited Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer's feud
In the mid-2000s, Tinsley Mortimer was the reigning number one queen of young New York society circles, when social climber Olivia Palermo hit the scene. Palermo is a decade younger than Mortimer and had some major societal climbing ambitions. But there was no room for two queen bees in New York society, and the drama between the two women was reportedly driven by the now-defunct website, Socialite Rank, and its “Social Elite Power Ranking.”
The website ranked young women who were part of the charity-ball circuit in New York City, scoring them on their personal style, public appearances, and publicity efforts. Palermo, who was about 20 years old at the time, was becoming a front-row fixture during Fashion Week shows in 2006. Socialite Rank did not seem a fan of Palmero, as New York Magazine reported, and the website apparently began criticizing her.
On March 27, 2007, Socialite Rank published a letter that would end up pitting Mortimer and Palmero against one another. “EXCLUSIVE! OLIVIA PALERMO LOSES HER MIND AND SHOCKS SOCIALITE WORLD,” read the headline. The accompanying story included a letter purporting to be written by Palermo, who was reportedly groveling for the acceptance of New York’s socialites. Palermo denied that she wrote the letter, per the New York Post. One month later, the “shove heard around the New York City social scene” happened, which cemented Tinsley Mortimer and Olivia Palermo’s alleged feud. Keep scrolling for more details.
Tinsley Mortimer allegedly got Olivia Palermo's magazine cover nixed
In April 2007, New York Daily News gossip columnist Ben Widdicombe published an article that claimed an eyewitness saw Tinsley Mortimer deliberately elbow Olivia Palermo as they passed each other on the stairs at a fashion show. The report’s insider alleged that the future RHONY star “checked her so hard that Olivia fell into the railing.” Per Town & Country, the claim was deemed questionable. The article’s source turned out to be publicist Kelly Cutrone, who also appeared with Palermo on The City. Cutrone, at the time, was working for Palmero’s father in trying to help repair his daughter’s reputation.
In an interview with the New York Post, Mortimer’s High Society co-star, Devorah Rose — who was also editor in chief of the Hamptons’ Social Life – gave some insight into just how Mortimer felt about Olivia Palermo. In 2007, Rose put Mortimer on the cover of Social Life, and the two women became friends. During that same time, Rose revealed that she had mentioned to Mortimer that she thought about using Palermo for one of the magazine’s upcoming covers. Upon Mortimer’s alleged request, Rose nixed Palermo’s cover. After Rose did so, Mortimer reportedly began hosting parties for Social Life.
Could Tinsley Mortimer and Olivia Palermo’s supposed feud be the inspiration for an iconic TV show about the Upper East Side? More on that below.
Olivia Palermo and Tinsley Mortimer's relationship is rumored to be the inspiration for Gossip Girl
Speculation began to grow as to who was behind the website that appeared to have created such chaos in New York society — including everyone from writer Derek Blasberg to socialite Peter Davis to photographer/marketer Kate Schelter. On April 26, 2007, per New York Magazine, Socialite Rank ran its final post. “SR is closing its society heaven,” the website announced. Two days after the site shut down, Russian stepsiblings Olga Rei and Valentine Uhovski confessed to the outlet that they were the ones who ran the website. “We are the masterminds behind Socialite Rank,” they said. The two had apparently been part of the New York social scene. With the shutting down of the website, so ended the era of the New York society “it girl.”
As Cheat Sheet has pointed out, it has been rumored that the alleged feud between Tinsley Mortimer and Olivia Palermo, seemingly exacerbated by Socialite Rank, became the inspiration for the hit TV show, Gossip Girl – with Mortimer being Serena van der Woodsen and Palermo as Blair Waldorf. “Without fail, Mortimer was everything Serena represented on the series. Beauty, privilege and status as being Manhattan’s ‘it’ girl,” the outlet notes, before adding of her “very public feud” with Palermo, “Like her fictitious counterpart, the drama also followed Mortimer.”
Ironically, or perhaps not somewhat perfectly, Mortimer guest-starred on an episode of Gossip Girl in 2008, just over one year after the Socialite Rank shut down.
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