Love her or hate her, you have to admit there are few people to emerge from New York in recent years as instantly recognizable (and instantly polarizing) as the Soho Grifter herself, Anna “Delvey” Sorokin. She penetrated the ranks of downtown society, defrauded banks and hotels, betrayed the friends who supported her the most, and, to the delight and befuddlement of both social media and the fashion press alike, hired a celebrity stylist to shape her courtroom image at trial in early 2019.
This week, the first Hollywood adaptation of Anna Delvey’s story arrives on Netflix with the debut of the Shonda Rhimes-written miniseries Inventing Anna. (An HBO project by Lena Dunham, based on the book My Friend Anna, is also in the works). Seeking seeking answers, we caught up with the production’s costume designers Lyn Paolo and Laura Frecon to learn more about how to piece together the ultimate grifter’s wardrobe.
Inventing Anna, as we came to learn, uses fashion to manipulate the audience into understanding—or into thinking we understand—who Anna is. And honestly? We ate it all up. Because at the end of the day, you can denounce Anna’s crimes, but someone who ditches a dowdy prison jumpsuit in favour of Stella McCartney is exactly the kind of woman we want to know more about.
Related article: Anna Delvey Is So Much More Than A “Fake German Heiress”
It began with an internet deep dive.
Paolo and Frecon embarked on roughly two months of intense research into Anna Delvey’s wardrobe. Generally speaking, they recreated as many looks as they could based off social media posts from Anna’s peak grifter years. For the infamous trip to Morocco (which Sorokin ultimately charged entirely to a friend’s credit card), there were very few Instagram posts to reference, so Paolo felt more free to “use imagination.” For better-documented periods of Anna’s life, such as her courtroom trial — which garnered its own Instagram account — the designers “stuck very much to what she actually wore in court.”
Next, Paolo and Frecon reached out to a number of brands—Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Kors, Valentino, Balenciaga, and Rick Owns among them—in search of exact styles Anna wore. Many were willing to cooperate. If the brands no longer had the precise pieces in their archives, Paolo and Frecon turned to secondary markets like The RealReal. “On the whole, we had great relationships with the brands because they know we’re advocates for them,” said Paolo . “There was really only one brand that said no.” So by and large, Inventing Anna showcases many of the pieces Anna Delvey actually wore—or least the ones that were seen on party photographer websites like BFA or Patrick McMullan.
Remember—Anna Delvey was a chameleon.
One of the most captivating aspects of Inventing Anna’s costume design is that, like any grifter, Delvey’s style fluctuates depending on her surroundings. Being a chameleon is her modus operandi. “Each episode is from a different character’s perspective and you’ll see this different Anna,” Frecon told us. “The whole show is from other peoples’ points of view, this sort of Greek chorus telling us who Anna was.”
When Anna meeting with bankers, she’s decidedly buttoned-up and conservative. When she’s downtown, it’s more about head-to-toe black or perhaps a flouncy babydoll dress. For the big Morocco trip, Frecon and Paolo turned to LA resortwear shop Permanent Vacation for colourful muumuus. Fashion is a way to control how the world sees you—and a good grifter can pull off any of these looks with aplomb.
Don’t forget the glasses
In Inventing Anna, we see Anna in the same Celine specs her IRL counterpart was known for wearing. But again, she’s a chameleon, so Paolo decided that “throughout the show, her glasses would change depending on who she was with.” In one point she’s in Stella McCartney, then she’s in Prada or Dior. This revolving lineup of designer brands literally shapes the way Delvey sees the world—not through a committed sense of style, but through using brand names as stepping stones to get what she wants.
It’s about labels—but not necessarily about taste.
For someone posing as a German heiress, Anna’s IRL looks were surprisingly not very rich-looking, and this is one of the great mysteries that has kept fashion lovers intrigued. Her accessories seldom went together. Her oft-worn leather jacket appeared worn. She wore pieces from Alaia and Balenciaga, but her overall looks tended to lack the exuberance of a real fashion lover. Anna wore lots of black to fit in with the downtown scene she was trying to penetrate, but her choices lacked the connoisseurship of someone who shops at, say, The Row or Comme des Garçons. There’s a difference between the careful construction of a true fashion lover’s wardrobe, and a magpie approach to just wearing a lot of designer crap.
Even Anna’s courtroom looks, for which she hired a stylist and caused a stir on social media, were (perhaps intentionally) staid, with only the barest hint of sexuality lurking under the surface—a simple black dress with plunging neckline here; a beige yet figure-skimming sweater there. “I don’t think her fashion was as elevated as people said it was,” Paolo told us. That’s why the version of Anna we see on Netflix is going to be slightly turned up—more refined, more luxe, more over-the-top. Said Paolo: “I don’t want to say anything negative, but I would say that our Anna has slightly elevated taste.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.