This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com in March, 2016.
Tinsley Mercer Mortimer, 40, was once the most photographed young woman in New York City. She seemed to have everything a certain kind of person might want: an important name, her picture everywhere, a budding career on the fashion/social/reality-show circuit.
But then Tinsley and her high-school sweetheart, Topper Mortimer, split, and she migrated down to Palm Beach to start over. Pictures of “Tinz” no longer popped up everywhere—until they did. On April 9, Mortimer was arrested for trespassing outside the Palm Beach home of Alexander “Nico” Fanjul, and a splotchy mugshot made the internet rounds.
The first raft of stories cast her as a jilted ex-lover, and police reports said she was found “crying and screaming irrationally stating that her boyfriend ‘Nico’ was inside the house with another woman.” The truth, of course, is much more complicated.
How Mortimer Made A Name For Herself
Before it all went south, Mortimer was a darling of New York society. “When Tinsley first appeared on the scene and was married to Topper, she was very prominent and she always wore amazing dresses and was invited to all the major social galas,” says Steve Eichner, a longtime WWD photographer and founder of a photography app, NameFace. “She looked great and posed for the cameras with style and ease.”
By the early 2000s, the Richmond, VA native, reportedly descended from Thomas Jefferson, had already acquired a litany of status markers: a diploma from Lawrenceville, one of the country’s premier boarding schools; a degree in art history from Columbia, where she was a member of the exclusive St. Anthony Hall; and an old-money husband. Topper Mortimer has founding-father roots as well and his great-grandfather was the president of Standard Oil. He and Tinsley eloped when they were both 18—although that first marriage ended when his parents sent him to the Dominican Republican to have it annulled. They married again in Richmond in 2002, this time with a proper New York Times wedding announcement.
New York is full of well-connected young women with good educations. Mortimer wanted more, and she got it with some help from R. Couri Hay, a society publicist. Hay recalls an evening about 15 years ago when Mortimer approached him at a party at the Guggenheim Museum. (“I had become well known for helping guide the social girls that wanted to be models, or wanted to have products, or wanted to be designers.”) “Tinsley said, ‘Couri, all I want to do is be a little socialite,'” says Hay.
At the time, Mortimer was working for Harrison & Shriftman as an events planner (she’d also been a beauty assistant at Vogue), and Hay advised her to quit her job. “I felt that we couldn’t turn her into a little socialite that would be put on a pedestal by New York society, and the gossip columnists, and the glossy magazine press, as long as she had a job as a publicist. Even though a lot of social girls did emerge from publicity.”
“I knew that Tinsley had the potential to be an ‘it’ girl. She was funny, she was frisky, she was like a little pedigreed filly—and she was a Mortimer.”
Hay then helped her get onto event committees at the American Museum of Natural History and the Central Park Zoo. “I knew that Tinsley had the potential to be an ‘it’ girl, because she was beautiful, she was perky, she had a great, vibrant personality,” Hay says. “She was funny, she was frisky, she was like a little pedigreed filly, and she was a Mortimer, so she had a real strong connection to, kind of, old New York.”
Hay says Mortimer, like many of her peers, idolized both Cornelia Guest and Tory Burch. “Everybody wanted to be Tory because Tory Burch had parlayed being attractive and going to parties and being on the committees and being in the right dress at the right time, in the right place with the right people, into what became a billion-dollar empire. This is kind of like the garden from which many flowers bloomed. But some were successful, and some were not.”
In this 2013 video profile from Vogue Italia, Mortimer gives a tour of her former New York City apartment with her chihuahuas (whose names, she reveals, are tattooed on her wrist).
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Mortimer did start to taste a bit of that “gold standard” social success. She was photographed constantly and sat front row at fashion shows—at a time when sitting front row was just starting to be a thing done by celebrities and not just editors and buyers. In 2007, Mortimer became a beauty ambassador for Dior, and they released a pink lip gloss named after her. She designed a handbag line for Samantha Thavasa, which was so huge in Japan that her face was on billboards in Tokyo. She had a clothing collection, a cameo on Gossip Girl, and a starring role on the CW reality show High Society.
In retrospect, the show was less a crowning moment than a tipping point. It only aired for one season in 2010 and followed the “Park Avenue Princess” and her fractious friends around the city as they hurled insults at one another (“Die in a fire. I don’t care”). Tinsley and Topper were in the midst of a divorce, and her participation reportedly “caused her to lose her elusive social status.” A Slate review called Mortimer “a socialite presenting a compelling study in contemporary vulgarity.”
Topper, it turned out, had long been skeptical of Tinsley’s desire for fame. “It’s not necessarily the type of goal that anybody should strive for, going out every night for the sake of self-promotion and getting their pictures taken,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “And I mean, these are girls who went to good colleges. You would think they’d have something better to do.”
Time For a Change
After publishing a novel and dating a European aristocrat—Germany’s Casimir “Cassi” Wittgenstein-Sayn—and American Idol star Constantine Maroulis, Mortimer began to spend more time in Palm Beach, and in December of 2012, she and Fanjul, now 30 and a decade younger than Tinsley, began dating. (Fanjul lives in Palm Beach full-time and has spent the last three years studying for an insurance license exam, says a source familiar with Mortimer’s situation.) It was a relationship they mostly kept secret because Fanjul’s parents reportedly did not approve, according to a friend of Mortimer’s. “They’d see each other out at night, and then they’d meet up back at his house,” the source says. (Fanjul did not return requests for comment.)
A source familiar with Tinsley’s situation said Mortimer and Fanjul spent much of their time together “watching movies and cooking dinner” in their “own little world,” which, after the flashbulbs and reality show cameras of her New York days, may have been a welcome respite for her.
Signs of trouble surfaced early, however. In December 2013, Mortimer was hospitalized for a head injury “due to a possible battery,” police reports reveal. A police officer who visited her at the hospital reported that Mortimer had “a laceration on the back of her head that was still bleeding with blood in her hair” along with a swollen and bruised face, eye, and arms. Photographs taken by the Palm Beach Police Department, and published by the Daily Mail, reveal that both Mortimer and Fanjul had bruises and scratches on their bodies.
Mortimer told the police she was injured while trying to break up a fight between Fanjul and his younger brother, but she refused to give their names citing fear of the Fanjuls’ “status in Palm Beach.” On New Year’s Eve, Fanjul called police to his house and reported Mortimer for trespassing. Officers found her locked in a bedroom and she told them she was “fearful” of Fanjul. The police report notes that both Fanjul’s and Mortimer’s “speech was slurred” and both “appeared intoxicated.”
Despite the incidents, the relationship continued. “I would always tell her, ‘Get out of this, it’s so unhealthy, it’s so ridiculous,'” says Mortimer’s friend. “I didn’t realize how bad it was, but unhealthy love is like an addiction.”
In June 2014 police were called to Fanjul’s El Dorado Lane home after yet another altercation. That time, police found Mortimer barefoot and her “face was swollen and reddened from crying.” She alleged that Fanjul tried to “smother her with a pillow” and she “fled outside into her vehicle and locked herself in,” according to a police report obtained by T&C. Fanjul also allegedly keyed Mortimer’s mother’s Range Rover “from the driver side door to the rear fender repeatedly,” and ripped off the windshield wipers and used them to break the front windshield.
An officer on the scene reported that Mortimer “showed me a video of Fanjul bending and breaking the windshield wipers from her car and breaking the windshield with it.” An officer “repeatedly tried to read him his Miranda rights before asking him questions about the damage on the vehicle, but he was highly intoxicated and uncooperative [and] refused to answer any questions about the incident and asked us to leave,” the police report states.
Another police report from an incident that occurred in December 2014 includes testimony from Fanjul’s neighbor, who told police he “observed Fanjul chase [Mortimer] out of his driveway and then tackle her into his lawn.” He told police that Fanjul “later spoke with him and ‘apologized that they had to see that.'” Fanjul reported to police that Mortimer “attacked him and scratched him, leaving minor lacerations to his chest, back, and bruising above his right rib cage.”
All told, the police were called five times between December 2013 and April 9, 2016. A trespass warning was first issued to Mortimer in December 2013, but the source close to Mortimer says she had visited Fanjul’s house many times since that order was issued, and Mortimer may have believed that the warning was automatically void after she accompanied Fanjul as an invited guest.
If she was in fact invited there, a legal expert notes that prosecuting Mortimer for trespassing could prove difficult if not impossible. “Looking at it from the prosecutorial perspective, you shouldn’t be able to prosecute or even file the case when the person’s been invited back to the location by the person who issued the trespass warning,” says Darren D. Shull, a lawyer based in Jupiter, FL who served as an assistant state attorney for 16 years and is not involved in this case. “You’re going to void the trespass by inviting the person back onto the property. As a victim of trespass, your case goes into doubt. A prosecutor’s not going to want to prosecute.”
Mortimer’s attorney, Matt Morgan, told T&C that “we have initiated contact with the State Attorney’s Office and remain optimistic that this misunderstanding will be resolved in short order.”
“I would always tell her, ‘Get out of this, it’s so unhealthy, it’s so ridiculous.'”
The Fanjuls have publicly condemned Mortimer: “It’s all hearsay, and all [Mortimer’s] black-and-blue stuff is what she’s done to herself or what somebody else has done to her,” Fanjul’s mother, Nicole Fanjul, told the New York Post. “She hides in the bushes, she hides in her car, she puts cigarettes out in his face, did anybody ever tell you that? This makes Fatal Attraction look like a cartoon. She’s insane. This is a result of a woman scorned. She’s going up against us and she’s going down.”
When reached for comment by T&C, Nicole said she had been advised not to make a statement.
What Came Next for Mortimer
What does New York society think of what its erstwhile “preeminent young socialite” has become? “I think people feel sorry for her at this point,” says a source familiar with the social scene.
It remains to be seen whether Mortimer’s mugshot marks the end of an obviously turbulent relationship. It’s surely the end of an era. Steven Stolman, a designer and author who has lived in Palm Beach since 1995, suggests that Mortimer is the last real “celebutante.” It’s a label that was born with Brenda Diana Duff Frazier, whose 1938 debutante ball was so well publicized she appeared on the cover of Life magazine. Publicly, Frazier was a little embarrassed (“I’m not a celebrity,” she once told a reporter. “I don’t deserve all this. I haven’t done anything at all. I’m just a debutante”); Mortimer certainly was not. But today, her social notoriety—and early attempts at brand building—seem almost quaint in comparison to the staggering success of Tory Burch (at one end of the high-society spectrum) and multimedia ubiquity of Kim Kardashian (all the way along at the other end).
For her part, Mortimer may be trying to build a new life and career. According to a source familiar with her plans, she’s focusing on her event planning job with a company called Engineered Tax Services, which has affiliated locations in Palm Beach and New York. Her line of home goods with Pop Culture Living is still in place; it’s sold at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and used by the poolside restaurants at the Four Seasons Las Vegas and the Waldorf-Astoria in Boca Raton. After this, our source says, Mortimer hopes to follow in the footsteps of her mother and emerge as an interior designer.
Something tells us we’ll hear from her again soon.