Anna Delvey, America’s iCon

Or, stop being so dramatic 🙄

Like much of the world, I was drawn into Shonda Rhimes’ new Netflix series Inventing Anna, which documents the almost unreal rise and fall of ‘fake German heiress’ Anna Sorokin, better known as Anna Delvey, over the mid-to-late-2010s. From boutique hotel rooms to glitzy trips abroad to stolen jets, she conned New York high society out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and was on the cusp of crossing into the millions when the scheme came crashing down around her.

At least, the conventional wisdom is that it was a con. No two people even seem to agree on that. Which has kept me turning over the case in my head ever since.

New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler broke the story in May 2018, Delvey having been remanded to Rikers Island the previous fall. I don’t remember hearing anything of these events as they unfolded—unsurprising, I guess, given that it was in quite a few powerful people’s interest to keep it under wraps and reveal what had to be revealed as vaguely as possible out of sheer embarrassment. But, as Shakespeare or somebody said, the truth will out! Especially when the truth comes to Shondaland.

In the borderless, acoustically deafening agora that is the internet, people who do recall getting wind of the story at the time lament how discouraging it was to see the fascination with “flashy wannabe[s]” at the expense of honest people trying to change their own situation and station. Others criticize Anna (her exploits as portrayed in the series, when checked against Pressler’s profile, seem pretty faithful) for making terrible decisions and generally falling short of the criminal-mastermind status she is accorded by still others. And then, of course, there are those who balk at what a distorted sense of self she must have had to believe she could manifest a place in the aristocracy through what amounted to an elaborate set of people skills.

In my humble opinion, none of these angles does her justice.

All during the series’ introductory-expository phase, you better believe I was getting Edie-Sedgwick-with-an-Instagram vibes from this girl. So I’m on board with whatever her deal is. (Her account now has 999,999 followers, plus me.) It didn’t take much longer, though, for me to recognize that was not a fair comparison. Edie was born into her world. Anna, armed with that elaborate set of people skills—which did not even include much in the way of niceties or common decency—hustled her way into circles of people who were thereby convinced that she had been born into their world. She used her other natural talents, like a photographic memory, to immerse herself in the myth she had built. And, unlike Edie, she had to worry constantly about maintaining that myth, keeping up appearances, having cash on hand, having friends who could bail her out if it came to it. Because she knew there was a chasm between what she did have to her name and what she wanted to attain. Once she had secured enough people’s trust, on both personal and financial levels, then there was a distinct chance that she would have pulled it off and realized the dream of the Anna Delvey Foundation. Daring and calculated as her leap was, it wasn’t enough to carry her to the other side.

And let’s talk about the Anna Delvey Foundation. She was justifiably frustrated with the tabloids dismissing her as any sort of socialite, wannabe or otherwise, because the whole long game she was running was for a club that would have enriched the coffers of the New York art scene. She was putting in considerable legwork to get a business off the ground which presumably would have become legitimate sooner or later. The question we’ll never have answered is that if she had ultimately made good on the loan, had successfully leased 281 Park Avenue South, would her illicit entrepreneurial beginnings ever have been discovered?

But the composite that is Anna Delvey really boils down to nothing but questions. She persuaded a lot of experienced professionals, be they professionals in business or the law or being rich, that she was the real deal and that her vision stood a chance of becoming reality. The purity of her intentions, the comfort level she felt with betraying friends and partners (was she forced to by circumstance? had she intended to all along?), are up for debate.

And did she do it all just for fame? Pressler’s article claims Anna fretted over how narcissistic it might sound to name her foundation after herself. But it’s not the easiest to take Anna at her word.

I’m fascinated by her narrative and by the divisive figure she presents. People try to box her in and label her, which I think cements her final triumph—that, having ridden her mysterious backstory to the perimeter of outrageous fortune, she escapes definition even now. She is both hero and villain; a foil for the American Dream, its kept gates and moving goalposts, and a schemer whose stone-cold ambition didn’t allow her to care about stepping on people in her quest for the heights. She couldn’t keep up with her own machinations in the end, but she had plenty of what it took to get that far in the first place, an X factor that remains undiminished.

So, do I agree with what she did? No.

Do I agree with why she did it? …Not entirely no.

Do I like her? Honestly, sort of.

Do I respect her? Hell yes.

(Do I hope her Céline glasses turn the tide in eyewear? Rhetorical question.)

Image: photo by Sergio Corvacho for New York Magazine

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti (she/her) lives in Berlin with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. She co-hosts and produces the music commentary podcast POD SOUNDS. Her free time goes toward dancing, reading books new and old, drawing cartoons, taking city walks, and devoting too much thought to the foibles of her heroes. Connect with her on Instagram (@c_m_giglio, @ceciliagphotography, @pod_sounds_podcast) and check out her portfolio (linktr.ee/ceciliagigliotti).

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