Raise a negroni sbagliato with prosecco in it, Anna Delvey is a free woman. We all know the story of Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin)—a Russian immigrant who posed as a German heiress and deceptively obtained lumps of cash in the pursuit of her dream, the Anna Delvey Foundation, a members-only arts club. The relentless grifter lived large in New York, reeking of money despite not having any. Luxury flexing is a complex thing, and Delvey aped the appearance of minimal, expensive restraint that only the truly affluent can get away with. Nowadays, the vibe has shifted toward the soft neutrals of The Row, but Delvey was a Le Coucou Philophile, the peak of 2010s aspirations. The idea that it was not funded by a trust, that the lifestyle of hotels and private jets and luxury riads was hollow as papier-mâché, is astounding.
This past week saw Delvey fresh off the Rikers boat and back in the East Village, her unfurnished apartment less-deliberately minimal. But even under house-arrest—ankle monitor strapped firmly to her leg—Delvey is an icon. On Tuesday, she stepped out in one of the most astounding parole hearing looks in recent memory: head-to-toe black satin with a trench and monogrammed scarf hooded and bowed at the neck like an extravagantly wrapped Fabergé egg. It felt almost violently opulent. Something about the ’fit said widow arriving for the will-reading after the suspicious death of her extremely rich husband. Delvey never misses a moment to knowingly shine, she never misses a beat.
I’m trying to unpack how and why the convicted fraudster became a figure of high-society folklore, the kind of person you write “absolute lege” about on Facebook. It’s partly to do with the crimes, and partly Delvey’s total lack of remorse.
I’ll say up front that crime is wrong, that stealing is wrong, that surreptitiously convincing a bank employee to loan you $100,000 is wrong, but the thing is… we all love a grifter. A grifter’s crimes are usually petty, and Delvey’s were relatively petty to the companies she diddled; her “victims” were mostly private jet companies and banks. She swindled the gullible rich, and that, although downright illegal, does feel a bit…lol?
Delvey has given the rest of us the chance to feel a bit superior, too. We love to feel like the person who got crime-d was richer but stupider than we are; that they lost money by lacking the common sense and basic awareness that regular people have. We are streetwise enough to see the con coming a mile out. We would never fall for Delvey’s schemes because we’re always on our toes.
The last thing is that Delvey did this with her whole chest. She is the architect of a long-term rich-people confidence trick and she never broke character, she never stood down, she never retreated. It’s the stuff of crime fiction made real. It’s the kind of overly romanticized criminality I dream of (alongside romancing the family inheritance out from under a baroness, or being a cat burglar). But honestly, I don’t think I could do any of it because I’d be expecting my conscience to kick in at any moment.
I, we, simply don’t have the audacity to Delvey other people. And I guess that’s part of the appeal? Anna Delvey did this momentous swindle, and although she’s been custodially punished, she’s never seemed truly sorry. We see this sartorially, too. Delvey dresses like she’s not hiding, she dresses like she’s not embarrassed, she dresses like she’d do it all again in a heartbeat.