Anna Delvey Didn’t Look Rich—Which Is Exactly Why She Seemed Like She Was
The Soho Grifter, Anna Delvey, dressed like a slob, which made her look like a million bucks.
Anna Delvey in 2013. Photograph via BFA.
Anna Sorokin, alias Anna Delvey—the “Soho grifter” who is currently being held without bail at Rikers for a sprawling international web of fraudulent activity—brandished hundred dollar bills as tips, spent $4,500 on a personal trainer, and chartered a private plane to the Berkshire Hathaway investment conference. She spent $400 “regularly” for eyelash extensions at Christian Zamora, reports Vanity Fair, and got haircuts at Sally Hershberger, had her hair colored at Marie Robinson, and spent thousands on dinners at Le Coucou.
But she was “usually wearing a Supreme brand hoodie, workout pants, and sneakers,” and her hotel room, New York reported, was overflowing with bags from Supreme and Acne—not exactly New York’s best-kept secrets. In a handful of photos on BFA, Delvey appears in the simple and safe clothing that people usually buy out of insecurity at Intermix. There’s a tight black dress at a 2013 Paris fashion week party, with intricate lace panels that suggest it’s Alaïa, but worn with a misguided gray clutch and well-worn sparkly heels. There’s a silk orange sleeveless dress with an empire waist in 2014 (very 2014—can’t you see one of Blair Waldorf’s little minions spying on Chuck in this dress?).
She wears the rich girl staple: a shrunken black leather jacket, which looks like a poorly cared for Rick Owens, worn over everything from a purple satin dress covered in black tulle to a creamy pink a-line shift and black bow flats. Like the maybe-Alaïa dress, the purple dress looks like it might be Marc Jacobs, and the flats are perhaps Lanvin, but they’re so flippantly worn that they might be H&M. The accessories name-checked by one of her victims, Vanity Fair staffer Rachel Williams, read more like a checklist of best-selling luxury items than an expression of personal taste: Cèline sunglasses, Rimowa suitcases, Gucci sandals.
She didn’t look like her outfit cost a million bucks—and that’s why she looked like she had a million bucks.
Both of the recent Delvey exposes—one in New York magazine and the other in Vanity Fair—attempt to grapple with the inability of the New York party circuit (not to mention several banks) to sniff out her fraudulent background until it was too late. On Twitter, her hair was singled out as a “tell”—“anyone rich enough to live in a hotel has perfect hair no matter the weather or season”—but what does her clothing tell us?
On the one hand, the rich girl uniform is no longer made up of things that are out of the average buyer’s reach. Flip through the archives of society photography agencies like BFA or Patrick McMullan and you’ll see that the bright young things that populate the city’s party circuit have the same stuff as the dull young hangers-on—just more of it, and worn with a sloppy abandon that the security of wealth allows. It’s the same logic that makes Mark Zuckerberg think he can afford—intellectually, and financially—to wear a hoodie to work.
When digging to the bottom of Delvey’s financial heap, New York quoted the New York District Attorney’s indictment, which read that she used a portion of her illegally-obtained $55,000 for “shopping at Forward by Elyse Walker, Apple, and Net-a-Porter.” In a city with Totokaelo, Dover Street Market, and Fivestory, it’s clear this wasn’t a woman who liked to shop, or liked to get dressed—but to acquire. To amass. Delvey’s possessions aren’t items that say anything about Delvey—it’s doubtful she’s into skateboarding or streetwear, and Alexander Wang leggings are not the sort of thing that construct identity or express personal taste—but rather about who she wanted to be: so rich she could look careless. She (unbelievably) had access to seemingly all the money in the world, and could have bought any of the incredible things that luxury houses produce: a Gucci gown! An Alaïa bolero! The rarest Supreme! The Chanel LED bag! But instead, she picked things that were less expressions of style than overt gestures of wealth. As one acquaintance told New York, of meeting Delvey in 2015, “‘She was wearing really fancy clothing’—Balenciaga, or maybe Alaïa—‘and someone mentioned that she flew in on a private jet.’” Alexander Wang was still designing for Balenciaga then, so the clothing would have been considerably more streamlined than the Balenciaga we see today, but still: Wang’s luxe athleisure would be difficult to confuse with Alaïa’s sculpted tailoring. Or would it? When someone acts rich, the topsy-turvy compass of luxury means we presume their clothes are the right costume, no matter what.
There are, of course, international party girls and heiresses and “rich girls” who don’t look like Delvey. There are rich girls and international party girls and heiresses who are some of the best-dressed women in New York! But, like Rachel Williams, I used to work at Vanity Fair (hi, Rachel!)—and the truth is that a lot of girls of the kind Delvey purported to be do dress like this. They shop and shop and shop, and despite all this shopping, they wear hype hoodies and designer leggings—the same ones, over and over. Clothing can help you feel like you belong. It can give you a sense of comfort.
Still, when people scam for material gain, they tend not to have great taste, and perhaps the mediocrity of her purchases was a tip off. Paul Manafort, you may recall, spent $1.3 million on suits—but then, why are his suits so ill fitting?
Maybe, Delvey’s clothing tells us, she didn’t want to just pretend to be rich. She wanted influence, which in New York, is money. New York reported that Delvey objected to the District Attorney’s “portrayal of her as, as Anna put it, ‘a greedy idiot’ who had committed a kind of harebrained Ponzi scheme in order to go shopping.’ ‘If I really wanted the money, I would have better and faster ways to get some.’” There, at least, she’s right: she wanted a lot of things, but shopping, her wardrobe suggests, didn’t seem to be one of them.
Instead, a more obvious tell that nags at me: what kind of rich person thinks Seamore’s is the best restaurant in Soho?