Tinsley Mortimer has always had a thing about eyelashes. "Growing up in the South, I wore makeup as a child," she recounts over breakfast at the Beekman Hotel in Lower Manhattan. "I literally got in trouble for wearing makeup at school. I was like, ‘But my mommy put it on.’ "
Mortimer, now 43, may not have been wearing fake lashes back in grade school, but they didn't come too long after. She wore them as a teenage debutante in Richmond, Virginia, as New York's most popular party girl on the social scene in the early aughts, and even in her 2016 mugshot for trespassing in Palm Beach, which she would then capitalize on as a tagline for her debut as a Real Housewife of New York the following year. "A good set of lashes can fix anything…even a mugshot," she declared on TV, twirling in a low-cut black gown.
Now, two years later, Mortimer is launching XXO Tinsley for Winky Lux, a new collaboration of fake lashes with the beauty brand Winky Lux. "A good set of eyelashes can fix a lot," Mortimer insists emphatically. "Or at least make you feel more confident. I can’t live without them, I’m sorry. I can’t look at myself without them. It’s not that I don’t feel pretty, but they make me feel prettier. And I don’t know why someone doesn’t want to look prettier."
Launching today on Winkylux.com, as well as in the brand's U.S. stores, Mortimer's collection consists of three different lashes, which are individually sold and of varying length and volume: There's the Baby Doll, a full, more natural lash; the Everything, a day-to-night lash with extra volume; and the Graduate, for the truly advanced, like Mortimer. They come in bright packaging designed by Mortimer herself, inspired by de Gournay wallpaper and meant to be held on to as a keepsake. The lashes themselves are made of synthetic, cruelty-free materials. "The natural ones are cut blunt, but the peaks on the synthetic ones are what make them so pretty," Mortimer explains.
To hear Mortimer talk about lashes is like having a cardiovascular surgeon detail a triple bypass. "There’s a secret to it," she says. "You have to put on a lot more glue than you think, you have to let it sit for a few minutes before you put it on, so they don’t slip and slide; you have to cut them well." Mortimer has been working on the collection for six months, a time when she was also filming the current season of Real Housewives. "People on my Instagram will be like, ‘What do you do for a living? Do you work?’ " she said. " It’s like, ‘Do you not think this is a job?’ First of all, I like to get hair and makeup before I film, because that is part of my everyday life. If I’m in Newport, Rhode Island, with my mother and we’re doing nothing, I like to have a full face of makeup, because I’m a Southern girl."
Mortimer may be a reality star now, but the Winky Lux collaboration hearkens back to Mortimer's New York origins, when, as a recent graduate of Columbia University, she scored a job as a beauty assistant at Vogue. "That’s funny, I’m not even putting that together," she said of the full circle–ness of it all. "That was my first job out of Columbia. I made it a year. It was all so stressful." It didn't help that before she started, the editor Plum Sykes had already scouted Mortimer and her Columbia classmates for a Vogue spread; and now that she was working at the magazine, the story was ready to be published. "It’s not a good thing to start at Vogue with all these girls and see my pictures running," she said. "It wasn’t easy. And then the whole thing got killed…I was crying in the bathroom a lot."
It was after a brief stint at a public relations firm that Tinsley Mortimer finally became the Tinsley Mortimer: the blondest, bubbliest, and most photographed girl at every party in the city—literally, every party. "It was a different time when you would go to events and get photographed, and that was the only source [of exposure]. Now I can just go on my phone," Mortimer said. "It’s so different. All these events were so important for brand building, because that was it. And then you’d have to wait a month or two to even see the photos, unless it was running in Women’s Wear Daily. I mean, look, I was a part of [the scene] when there was Socialite Rank. I was ranked number one, so I became a target for other girls. It helped, and then it started to hurt. You had all these nasty comments, and you didn’t have a voice. I couldn’t just go on Instagram or Twitter."
Still, there were perks. For one, urban legend has it that Gossip Girl was largely inspired by Mortimer and her social circle. (The spin-off series, The It Girl, even had a character named Tinsley Carmicheal.) "Blair was kind of an overexaggerated example of my style," Mortimer, who appeared as herself on the series on several occasions, confirms. "Serena was more the look after me, and they said Blair was more Olivia [Palmero]—which, we did not have any beef. That’s just so stupid. I never elbowed her off a runway.
"Again, that’s a case of media taking control of a situation and I didn’t have a voice," she continued. "The problem is she let it run, because it helped her, but it was like character assassination for me. I am not a mean person. I would never hurt somebody. I didn’t even know her—she’s younger and she’s beautiful and there was never an issue."
Mortimer does not keep in touch with her social circle from those days—among them, Lauren Santo Domingo, Fabiola Beracasa, and, yes, even Ivanka Trump—but harbors no ill will. "It’s something that I regret. I still follow them on Instagram and we’ll like this and that, but a lot of it was because I moved away, and their lives go on," she said. "When I moved back to New York, I thought I would reach out, but I was just so busy with the show. I just haven’t had the time to connect—it’s not like any of us are enemies. There’s no issue. I’m friends with my ex-husband, and he and his new wife are friends with those people, and there’s no animosity."
Times, and the very idea of what a socialite is, certainly have changed. Take, for example, the business of fashion week. "Before you’d see photographers crowd around a certain person," she said. "Now, these bloggers, or whatever you call them, have the one photographer they brought taking the pictures and the way they display it on their phone is so different from how it was when they were there. It’s so diluted now. Anybody can do it."
Would she, were she to arrive in 2019?
"Definitely. I mean, I would have been all over it," Mortimer says. "Now I’m just sort of behind. And honestly, too, with relationships that I’ve been in, they’ve been really private and I couldn’t just put things out there. People are posting these extravagant trips, and I’d be on those types of trips, but I couldn’t post. And also to have a boyfriend take a picture of me…I’d get five tries and that’s it. And it takes at least 100 pictures to get a good one. At least."
And so Mortimer, who once had a Dior lipgloss named after her—"It was called Tinsley Pink," she notes—is setting her sights on becoming a beauty entrepreneur in her own right now. Beyond today's lash launch, she's already thinking about upcoming collaborations with Winky Lux, which she'll begin working on soon, and may eventually be featured as a plot line on Housewives. After that, who's to say what's possible?
"Beauty in general is something that I feel very passionate about," Mortimer says. "I’m not saying I don’t want to be involved in fashion, too. For 10 years I designed handbags and clothing for a Japanese brand, and I loved doing that. But beauty was the right fit right now. I feel like I have a lot to say."