Oh, to be young, pretty, and rich. In the first decade of the 2000s, the New York socialite was the girl to be.
It was an exclusive club that I was never going to be a part of because girls who hail from the Bronx know pretty early on that “socialite” is never going to be on the résumé. That’s OK though. I lived vicariously through the Page Six exploits of Tinsley Mortimer, Olivia Palermo, Ivanka Trump, the Hilton sisters, Byrdie Bell, Cassie Johnson (RIP), et. al.
Those Park Avenue gals were like a Whitman Sampler. You never knew what you were getting—one minute they were sweet, glamorous, and fun-loving; the next they were mean girls with money.
Designers named lipsticks after them, velvet ropes were moved aside when their town cars pulled up and they created handbag lines. At one point, they were on reality TV. Tinsley Mortimer led the charge with a show called High Society, The Hills spinoff called The City starred Olivia Palermo, and then NYC Prep featured socialites in the making. It was all very Gossip Girl but IRL.
Then came the downfall.
Social media and an attitude of inclusion have created a world where anybody can be famous—all you need is a podcast mic or a camera phone and an Instagram account.
In the grand scheme of things, this might be a good thing; leveling the playing field and all, but I must admit I miss my New York Socials. I recently had a chance to relive their glory days (and my adjacent ones) with the Hulu documentary “Queenmakers: The Making Of An IT Girl” now streaming.
The movie covers the height of the heiress era in NYC when socialite celebrity was brought next level by bloggers, some of whom ended up becoming as famous as those they wrote about.
The doc is a course on “breaking into New York Society 101” that I thought was tongue-in-cheek, but it turns out those involved weren’t kidding.
1. Have money.
2. Give some to charity.
3. Hire a publicist (PR guru Kelly Cutrone who was interviewed for the documentary became a star in her own right with a reality show called “Kell on Wheels.”)
4. Get a stylist.
5. Be at the right party (sometimes 6 per night), in the right dress (changing in the taxi because you can’t wear the same dress to every fete), at the right time, which meant in front of the lens of Patrick McMullen.
6. Carry a giant purse and put a tiny dog in it.
The film takes a dark turn when it focuses on a trans blogger (nee James) for whom reporting on the socialites was not enough; he wanted to become one and now goes by Morgan Olivia Rose. Her rise and fall and attempt at a comeback are as poignant as those of the upper crust.
As Cutrone surmised: “Just because someone is pretty, and a size 2 and they have 100 million dollars...they’re still unhappy.” She continues, “It’s all very mythological: the beautiful people, the freaks, the one who wins, the one who loses, the one who comes from nowhere, the one who died, the one who got sober and had everything and lost it all...these are all stories and these are the people who want to be the stars of the stories.”
One of those people, Tinsley Mortimer, recollects her heyday wistfully: “It’s nice to see that girl who was super confident. It’s nice to try to remember that girl, and hopefully do something like that again.” When all is said and done, though, what she says she actually wants is to be a housewife (a real one, not the reality show kind) as well as a mother—like me.
I guess now it’s her turn to live vicariously.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of several novels, most recently The Last Single Woman in New York City (Heliotrope Books).