Spirited Glamour

With a nod to Mary Millicent Rogers, we present some classic looks and spectacular jewelry. 

Few people will remember Mary Millicent Rogers, but she was an American original. Born in 1902, she was the granddaughter of Henry H. Rogers, a financier for Standard Oil, and so grew up in the first half of the 20th century with the privileges of wealth. Her family lived on a baronial Long Island estate, named the Port of Missing Men, on the Peconic Bay. Millicent wasn’t your average well-born heiress: She was a lissome blonde—beautiful, intelligent and social. More than anything, she possessed a strong independent streak. And she loved fashion. She made her debut wearing an exotic Mandarin outfit, and later had an affinity for wearing heavy jewelry—bracelets, brooches and necklaces. Arturo Peralta-Ramos, a son, recently said of his mother, “M.R. really was the first hippie.”

A slightly rebellious high-society woman was a rare breed in the 1930s and 1940s, and so Rogers was a favorite of the press. According to Hamptonstyle magazine, “She was a regular at masquerade balls and became known for her lavish costumes—a gipsy maid, a glittering sorceress; she cut a striking image against the fray of socialites wearing dove gray and white.” She traveled frequently and had a long list of well-heeled, often aristocratic admirers, including, it is said, Edward Prince of Wales and Ian Fleming. She married three times while young—an Austrian count, an Argentine playboy and then an American stockbroker, each union dissolving as hastily as it had occurred. She had a serious fling with Clark Gable.

Rogers also spent time in Virginia, though how much is not entirely clear. She owned the Claremont estate, in southeastern Virginia, from 1940 to 1950 before moving to Taos, New Mexico, where she became known for collecting Navajo jewelry and designing Indian-inspired jewelry pieces of her own. There is a Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos today.

Given her Virginia connection, we thought it would be fun to evoke the fashion style, personal spirit and pedigree of Millicent Rogers. A name that came to mind was Tinsley Mortimer, née Tinsley Randolph Mercer. Mrs. Mortimer, a Richmond native, is attractive and intelligent; she was educated at St. Catherine’s, the Lawrenceville School and Columbia University, from which she graduated with a degree in art history. She lives in New York City and has her own Standard Oil connection: Her husband, Robert (Topper) Livingston Mortimer, is the great-grandson of Henry Morgan Tilford, a president of the Standard Oil Co. of California. He’s also a descendant of John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States.

The Mortimer family has branched out over the years—and as the website Park Avenue Peerage has wryly noted, “By marriage, and more marriage, and even more marriage, Tinsley is related to Babe Paley, the Vanderbilt Burdens, the Harrimans of New York, the Biddles of Philadelphia, the Pells of Louisiana, the Wilsons of North Carolina, the great Colonel Mucci, a naturalized French noblewoman and a Vermont-based Buddhist monk who takes a Bright Eyes approach to Dharma.”

In yet another echo of Rogers, Mortimer is a designer, as well: She’s created a line of handbags for a Japanese company, Samantha Thavasa by Tinsley Mortimer, and a line of dresses sold only in Japan (Riccimie by Tinsley Mortimer). She attends numerous charity and fashion events every year, and her picture appears regularly in publications or websites that follow the New York social whirl.

This feature was shot at the lovely Tuckahoe Plantation outside Richmond, where Tinsley says she played a lot as a kid. It’s a modern twist on the style of Millicent Rogers, who by all accounts successfully mixed personalized accents with her designer clothes. Think glamour, booming post-war America—and traditional beauty with a slight edge, to keep a good life interesting.

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ABOVE IMAGE: Oscar de la Renta beaded, tulle-skirted gown ($6,650) from Coplon’s, Richmond. John Hardy sterling silver Dot Nuansa large round drop earrings ($395); round sautoir necklace ($695) and round sautoir 36-inch necklace ($995); on right arm: large round cuff bracelet ($995) and oval ring ($495), and, on left arm, chain contour bracelet ($1495) and chain flat bracelet ($795), all from Schwarzschild Jewelers, Richmond. Also on right arm: Miriam Haskell crystal chunk bracelet with velvet ribbon snap clasp ($134) from Quirk Gallery, Richmond.

(Originally published in the August 2008 Issue)

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