One afternoon that summer, while sunbathing around the pool—the couple had a share in East Hampton with the photographer Patrick McMullan and the socialite Bettina Zilkha—the designer Douglas Hannant asked Tinsley to model for him, a gig that had previously belonged to socialite Debbie Bancroft. “Everyone raised an eyebrow when that happened,” McMullan recalled. “Tinsley was on the rise.”
That fall, she was seated in the front row at the Bryant Park fashion shows, taking a turn on the runway at the Heatherette show alongside Bijou and Nicky. “It’s as if she was already in the NBA, while the other girls were still playing college basketball,” said Valentine Uhovski, an editor at Fashion Week Daily and co-founder of socialiterank .com, a website that, in the spring of 2006, filled the gaping void in “It”-girl analytics. Tinsley was the site’s first number-one. “She stood out at those countless cocktails with signature poses, hair, and smiles,” Uhovski says. “She was always camera-ready.”
As a socialite, she was a pioneer, looking to monetize her social-register glamour. Samantha Thavasa, a Japan-based leather-accessories company, plastered her face on billboards in Tokyo and gave her her own line of bags. At the flagship-store opening on Madison Avenue, they dressed up a bunch of Tinsley look-alikes. In May 2007, Dior anointed her beauty ambassador.
Tinsley the brand had arrived, but the marriage was teetering. In June 2008, she announced that she would be collecting her thoughts while traveling to Europe with her sister.
Garfield, a Jamaican man who has been Topper’s chauffeur since 2003, was a close observer of the couple’s romance and subsequent troubles. Early on, he would overhear them giggling, playfully teasing. Over the years, Tinsley became “more of a person of the limelight,” going out alone. But, Garfield vouched, “if you wanted to get on Topper’s wrong side, all you had to do was be late picking up his wife.”
“Tinz and Topp,” as their friends called them, always bickered. It was a sport, played for fun, but as the years wore on, the needling took on a bitter tone. Topper’s nighttime escapades were part of the trouble. But increasingly, Tinsley’s career seemed to crowd out the life they’d had. In the fall of 2007, an MTV pilot Tinsley was developing (it wasn’t picked up) became the focus of a bitter dispute. At a dinner party downtown, Tinsley silenced the room when she blurted, “That’s the only reason you want me to have a kid, Topper! So that I won’t be able to be on the show ’cause I’ll be fat with a baby,” a friend recalled.
After the Jupiter Island drama, the couple tried to make a go of it—and no sooner had she returned than she brought a seven-person camera crew to their co-op on East 79th Street. Topper made himself scarce. “He basically avoided the cameras as much as he could,” said Peter Davis, Topper’s half-brother.
She was gone for good a week later.
This past July, Tinsley went public with her relationship with Prince “Cassi,” when the couple posed for photographs at a Cartier-sponsored polo match in Windsor, England. She wore a tangerine-orange cocktail dress and had a new, punky hairdo.“I didn’t have any idea how big of a deal the Cartier polo thing was,” she added. “But no, we’re not hiding. I have filed for divorce. I am allowed to date other people.”
For the most part, the prince has eluded the gossip mill, though there’s speculation that his fortune may not be that princely.
For Tinsley, who just finished designing the packaging for a new line of Dior-by-Tinsley facial blotting papers, it seems a diversion. “When you’re with someone for seventeen years,” she said, “pretty much half your lifetime, you just kind of want to get away a little bit and really try to relax and just have a nice time.”
Where Tinsley is blithe and carefree, Topper is tormented. He’s become a full-time smoker. He’s lost weight. He wakes up at precisely 3:25 every morning and plays over and over the reality show his life became. Still, he hasn’t entirely abandoned the idea that she’ll come back. “I love my wife” is all he’ll tell me.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Palm Beach, a southern belle is weeping. “Every mother wants her daughter to marry a man who she KNOWS will love her forever and … who will be an amazing father to their children,” says Dale Mercer in an e-mail to me. “This IS Topper so, of course, as a mother who adores and wants the best happiness for her daughter, I am crushed by what has happened. I have not given up hope.”
European titles mean nothing to Ms. Mercer: “I am more concerned with one’s character,” she says. “Casimir is a handsome, charming, urbane, and glib man. Topper asked him to step aside and give him (Topper) a chance to reclaim his marriage. Though he told Topper he would do this, he has NOT. I believe that Tinsley is confused, and she needs time by herself to sort things out.”
But Tinsley has other things to think about. “Just because my marriage didn’t work out doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful. I’m happy. I want to get there. I’m used to wanting to achieve and do bigger and better things and to constantly be working. I was built that way for my whole life, and it’s natural for me now.”
For better or for worse, she’s left the fairy tale behind. She’s something new, her own confectionary creation. No longer attached to Topper, her slightly stolid anchor, how far she’ll rise is anyone’s guess. He seemed to be the great love of her life, but now that’s over. One can only be truly in love with one person at a time.