Tinsley wasn’t meant to be the site’s star. Olga and Valentine just happened to love the package: the smile, the wit, the handbag line. She was the picture of a socialite. “You need a hero, you need a face,” Valentine explains. “That’s Tinsley—the face of Socialite Rank.”
At the end of 2006, the site decided that Tinsley was Socialite of the Year. When Olga and Valentine bestowed upon their favorite face another high honor, an “SR Creation” known as the Silver Spoon award, Tinsley wrote back with a letter of praise and thanks.
“We created a community,” Valentine said. “People begged us to keep going. We had no choice.”
After a few months, they had to buy more server space. They bought a second allotment, and more again. Finally, they bought a domain name. It didn’t cost much: Their total expenses for the year were only $750. And sellout offers flew in: $175,000 to write a corporate blog; an hour on camera with Tyra Banks; TV shows, films, cover stories. The New York Times wanted to do an exposé. VH1 offered correspondent jobs. There was just one condition: They had to reveal their identities. They refused.
In the new year, more stars were born. Fabiola Beracasa, who began with a low profile, appeared at events perfectly dressed, exchanged hugs with Olga and Val, chatted, smiled, and hit No. 1. “Work it!” Olga exclaimed. Arden Wohl, the headband socialite, also rose in the ranking. “She’s been a downtown icon in our eyes for years,” Valentine said. “Now the other girls are catching on.” The ladies who lunch dropped off, and Rachel Roy, once unknown in 10021, clawed into the top five. “We gave her the title of socialite,” Valentine said. “It feels like everyone in the world benefited but us.”
But there is one girl who hasn’t benefited, yet. Olivia Palermo never climbed higher than the sixteenth spot. She broke into the top twenty with her looks, but she failed to impress Olga and Valentine with her skills in manipulating the press—namely, Olga and Valentine. Asked how she felt, she might say, “Like a kid in a candy store!” Asked about her dress, she might opine, “Girls love to play dress-up.” The canned statements annoyed Olga and Valentine. Besides, they didn’t lack for people to like. “Tinsley was one of our heroes,” explained Valentine. “You need villains too.”
“Canned,” “packaged,” Olga said to her production wizard, whose identity they are still protecting. He tried to translate her words into an “SR Creation.” Packaged, canned, he repeated to himself—and then thought, tuna fish. An idea was born. “We did that evil article,” Olga recalled, shaking her head. “And that was enough.” Readers got the story line, and the comment hordes pilloried their new villain. And then, the letter.
“We’re being honest,” Olga said. “We did not write the Olivia letter. But whoever did it, they are even smarter than us.”
Socialite Rank’s story—should we choose to believe it—is this: “It was not a vendetta against Olivia,” Valentine said. “It was a vendetta against us. Someone set us up.”
“We thought it was real!” Olga said.
“Three people forwarded it to us,” Valentine said. “So we posted it. We never thought it was going to blow up.”
But it did. The Website is dead; the servers have been taken offline. And whoever wrote the letter will not be hard to find if the D.A. takes Olivia’s case and brings to bear the power of subpoena. That is clearly the hope of Olivia’s attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., the son of the former secretary of State and a partner with the law firm of Morvillo, Abramowitz, who filed a complaint last Tuesday with the district attorney of Manhattan. “Someone falsely represented him or herself to be Olivia Palermo in an e-mail letter posted on the Internet, in an attempt to injure, demean, and disparage Olivia,” Vance said in a statement. “That is the crime of criminal impersonation.”
Olga and Valentine, who have yet to hear from any lawyers, feel sorry for much of what happened—if not the idea itself, then the way they quickly lost control of it. Toward the end of our interview, I asked if they regretted founding the site. “What did we do it for?” Olga asked herself out loud. Valentine broke in. “The scary thing is—to us it was pretty effortless,” he said. “We’re wondering, what if we actually tried? Maybe we could be as big as PerezHilton.com? We could be ten times bigger! We have the power.”
And that’s what scares Olivia Palermo. But she wields her own kind of social power. A recent Wednesday night found her in the passenger seat of her boyfriend Brad’s red Miata, riding to the Anchor, a bar on the edge of Soho. I squeezed in, too, handing Olivia the gummy treats she wanted me to bring. (“Worms or bears??” I had texted back, and Olivia let me choose, simply writing “Spanks!”) We turned up the new Avril Lavigne song, and soon Olivia was seat-dancing in my lap, stopping to ask, “I’m not hurting your wanker, am I?” Brad donned his black leather driving gloves and zipped west to Greenwich and Spring.