Anna Delvey is trending again. This week, the 2018 The Cut feature “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People” is the publication’s most-viewed article on the site. Only the ads on the sides of the page have changed—now, as you scroll the true story of the wannabe-socialite who charmed New York’s wealthiest echelon out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, you’ll see ads for Netflix’s new series Inventing Anna.
Inventing Anna is loosely based on Jessica Pressler’s The Cut article, but the Shondaland treatment of Anna feels even more tenuous than the media attempts of the past. Now, in the margins of the feature, the fictional Anna’s (played by Julia Garner) face appears next to her real Instagram posts, adding a new layer of confusion to the question. Who is Anna Delvey, really?
First, the basics: In her heyday, between 2013 and 2017, Anna lived the kind of life most people only view through social media and reality television. Private jets. International trips. Extended five-star hotel stays. She painted herself as a German heiress, a patron of the arts, and the namesake of the burgeoning Anna Delvey Foundation. Her arts organization would be part private club, part public gallery. She even had her eye on a specific property in Manhattan; she just needed the right investors and bank loans. But with her stacks of cash, elite connections, and family wealth, getting the funds shouldn’t be too tough.
Of course, Anna was not actually an heiress. She wasn’t even German. She conned her way into a luxe life with a simple trick: She lied. A lot. Sometimes she forgot her credit card. Sometimes she wrote a bad check. Sometimes she was waiting on a transfer from her father, who was allegedly strict with her trust fund. The trick was to run with a crowd that was not only rich enough to cover the errant bill, but forget the debt altogether.
But Anna is not an heiress, or a socialite, or a trust fund baby. Delvey isn’t even her real name. She was born Anna Sorokin in Russia to working-class parents. As a teenager, she moved with her family to Germany. After high school, she moved to Paris to intern for French fashion magazine Purple. Around this time, Anna Delvey was born. (She claims Delvey is her mother’s maiden name—but her family says they’ve never heard that name before.)
Whether Anna was a genius manipulator or a lucky dope, she seems to have mastered the act of faking it. She would tip the staff at 11 Howard Hotel with hundred dollar bills—an effective misdirection for the fact that she never put a credit card on file. Once she got out paying for a Moroccan vacation by convincing the resort their credit card machine was broken. Her sense of entitlement became her disguise.
What is so alluring about a con artist? The real magnetism only enters the picture once the jig is up and we, the captive audience, are in on the joke. Stories about Anna have a folk hero edge to them, now. Crashing Warren Buffett’s private party. Rubbing elbows—and taking business tips—from Martin Shkreli. Some stories paint her as a Robin Hood type, screwing the wealthy out of their undeserved cash. But if Anna was interested in redistributing the wealth, it was only to herself. Even the fraudulent loans she took out for the Anna Delvey Foundation mostly went toward her designer wardrobe and luxury hotel stays.
And she would have gotten away with it, too! If not for—well—her own incompetence. Because that’s maybe the most fascinating thing about Anna. The Shonda Rhimes series fashions her as a chameleon, a charming social climber, a mastermind. In reality, she seems to be a girl who just blundered into situations and lied her way out, again and again. That takes chutzpah, certainly. It even takes some finesse. But it doesn’t require much brains. In October 2017, she was arrested on a mix of grand larceny and misdemeanor charges. After her 2019 trial, she was sentenced to three to nine years in prison.
The thing that Inventing Anna seems to miss is that the real Anna is very strange. Like Theranos founder and patron saint of #Girlbosses everywhere, Elizabeth Holmes, there is something incredibly off when you really scrutinize her. Her fashion felt expensive but incongruous. Her face was too round. Her hair was never blown out or styled. (In 2018, The Outline actually wrote about how hair can be a grifter’s main giveaway.)
Anna’s Instagram still exists in its entirety, a fascinating window into the ways she presented herself since 2013. In August 2017—the same month a grand jury convened to discuss her many charges—she posted a blurry photo of her foot in a bowl of salad. Her pedicure seems nice, but there’s nothing particularly glamorous about the image. The table is cluttered. The lighting is bad. And that’s just one example of her bizarre public performance. Sometimes, she posted the same image over and over: a selfie in a streaky mirror, a grove of palm trees against the sky. Her content presents a confusing and imprecise window into her mind. There’s a fascinating rift between the poised celebutante she wanted to be, and the glaring weirdo she obviously is.
When Anna hit the courtroom, she entered her third act: scammer and icon. The Instagram account @annadelveycourtlooks chronicled her sartorial choices during her legal battle (a baffling array of ill-fitting fast fashion). The comment section became a microcosm of the internet’s response to Anna’s crimes. She was both celebrated and reviled, clowned and emulated.
In 2022, Anna is out of jail but still in ICE custody. And she’s still on Instagram, but she’s evolved her character once again. Now she’s a pseudo-celebrity posting screengrabs of her media coverage and phrases like “but I’m too pretty to go to jail!” She gets hundreds of comments and thousands of likes. Julia Fox comments on her posts.
Her new project seems to be an alleged streetwear line called DelveyMail. In 2021, she suggested she would be partnering with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. The top-voted comment reads, “I don’t think you understand your social status very well.”
And so the Anna Delvey cycle of delusion and absurdity continues. In the end, beyond the grifts and lies, Anna’s biggest talent might be her tenacity. Now, with the Netflix show solidifying her fame, she’s more of a cultural moment than ever. Just be careful when DelveyMail hoodies go on inevitable preorder. That package is never, ever going to show up in your mailbox.