Paper Napkin Interview: Dishing with Tinsley Mortimer
Virginia native turned New York socialite Tinsley Mortimer has graced the pages of Vogue, WWD and Harper's Bazaar. Her debut novel Southern Charm, about a Charleston belle making her way up New York's social ranks, hits stands on May 1.
What inspired you to write Southern Charm?
Originally I was going to write a fashion style guide, but then my publishers suggested I write a novel instead. From there I developed the story of South Carolina debutante Minty Davenport navigating New York high society—gossip columns, fashion debuts, and all. It became really fun to create a book based on my experiences and people I know. As a writer I could make them say and do whatever I wanted.
Like Minty, you hit the New York social scene right after college. What made you stand out?
My Southern hospitality. New Yorkers tend to have a wall up. Being from the South, I didn't have that. It helped me meet a lot of people. And, as a Southerner, I love wearing color. New York is a sea of black. My popping out in pink was definitely noticed.
You've made a name for yourself as a fashion plate. How would you describe your personal style?
I don't follow trends. I wear what I feel comfortable in, and typically that is a dress. I love wearing very feminine details—poufs, ruffles, and baby-doll silhouettes.
What is the one clothing item or accessory that every Southern woman should own? A bright, colorful clutch is a great statement piece that never goes out of style.
The characters in your book have wonderful names like the heroine Minty, whose full moniker is Mary Randolph Mercer Davenport. What do you think sets Southern names apart?
There's a lot of history with Southern names. Southerners are very proud of their family history. A lot of those fabulous or unusual names come from great last names.
What do you miss most about life in your hometown of Richmond, Virginia?
The lifestyle of having houses and land. And little things like grits.
Where do you go in New York to get that comfort food fix?
Brother Jimmy's. They have the best coleslaw.
If you could spend one uninterrupted day in Richmond, what would you do there?
I'd visit the houses I grew up in and Hollywood Cemetery, where my grandparents are buried. I'd also do things I did as a kid that you just don't get to do in New York like ride bikes to the creek and make mud pies.
What is Richmond's best-kept secret?
Boxed lunches from Sally Bell's Kitchen. My mom used to surprise us at school with them. They come with a delicious pimiento cheese sandwich, deviled eggs and this cute little cupcake at the end. It's so adorable.
How would you describe the South to someone who has never been there?
It has a lot of amazing, smart, stylish women who are warm and strong-willed. Southern women are charming and confident about who they are.
What brings out your inner Southern belle?
I'm always a Southern belle, I don't feel like I ever lost that. But I feel especially Southern when I'm wearing bright dresses and glamorous hair and makeup. My Southern mother taught me to never be ashamed to wear a full face of makeup at all times. She started putting lip gloss on me in fourth grade. So it's just sort of built in.
Do you have any hidden talents?
It's not a talent, but I love karaoke. I'm the worst singer you've ever heard in your life, but I love it. I get up there and I don't care.
What is your favorite Southern expression?
Y'all. I'm saying "you guys" all the time now, and it doesn't seem right. I'm going to start bringin' back "y'all."