"This whole story is completely true....Except for all the parts that are totally made up."
That disclaimer opens each episode of "Inventing Anna," the Shonda Rhimes dramatization of the Anna Delvey (née Sorokin) grift, airing on Friday, Feb. 11 on Netflix. If you don't know the saga, go back and read the viral 2018 article by Jessica Pressler for The Cut immediately. The gist: Posing as a German heiress of vague origin (and accent, as portrayed by Julia Garner), Delvey scammed the Manhattan circa-2017 nightlife elite, multiple tony boutique hotels, a private jet company and seasoned bankers out of $275,000.
The completely true-ish portion of the bingeable Netflix series required the costume team, led by Shondaland legend Lyn Paolo, to source accurate matches of moments burned into our memories — flashes of Delvey's Instagram posts documenting her 10-month-long con and subsequent trial for counts of grand larceny, amongst other charges — from the scandal. (Famously, Delvey even hired a stylist for her courtroom appearances, and reportedly threw tantrums when faced with wardrobe crises during the trial.)
Rhimes and Garner met with a jailed Delvey during the preparation stages of "Inventing Anna," but the costume team didn't. (And Delvey briefly took her micro-influencer-level Instagram account offline.) Luckily, plenty of documentation remains available to reference, including the optioned article and its author, who's a producer on the series.
"We were able to backtrack and find images of exactly what Anna was wearing in all these different beats," says Paolo, who co-designed the series with Laura Frecon.
The team cross-referenced runway collections from 2017 and 2018, and scoured consignment sellers and past season discount sites like The Outnet, to build the protagonist's wardrobe.
"We spent three months researching, finding and altering [to fit Garner]," says Paolo. "We found the Alaïa dress that [Delvey] wore all the time," referring to the black long-sleeve and lace-paneled look snapped by society's favorite photography service, BFA, at a 2013 Paris Fashion Week party. Paolo snagged the decade-old dress off eBay, and then completely disassembled it to cut and re-fit it to Garner.
"That's just one article of clothing, and we must have had close to 140 pieces just for the Instagram [montage]," she says.
A black sleeveless Theory dress (above), worn during an imagined mug shot moment, mimics one of Delvey's real-life courtroom looks. Paolo also reinterpreted Delvey's much-cosplayed '90s choker and LBD trial uniform through a Michael Kors sheer-sleeve mini-dress (below). For a scene reenacting her arrest in Malibu, Paolo even found the exact Chanel sandals Delvey wore.
Obviously, thick-framed Celine glasses were also in order for the courtroom scenes, as Delvey's were well-documented in the media. "You wanted to remind people that this is the image that you saw," says Paolo. (The team copied and custom-built Delvey's shrunken black leather jacket worn in — gasp — multiple BFA shots in New York City that same year.)
The real Delvey reportedly wore a checklist of sought-after mid-2010s labels (think Alexander Wang, Supreme, Balenciaga, Acne Studios) and shopped at the requisite spots (such as Forward by Elyse Walker and Net-a-Porter, per the New York District Attorney's records). But her personal style sense could be described as ... haphazard, at best. Which actually enhanced her allure — like, only someone that rich would have insouciance to dress that way, right? But "Inventing Anna" takes place in Shondaland, home of "Scandal" and "Bridgerton," so for the "made-up" portion of the series, Paolo and her team happily took creative license.
"Our Anna, she's all about fashion," says Paolo. She mobilized buyers in New York, London, Los Angeles and Orange County and tapped into her network of designer brands, established during her days dressing Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope in Burberry trenches and Prada bags.
As her grifts progress and pivot, Anna morphs her look to fit the situation, like dyeing her platinum blonde hair to a mousier brown and donning those Celine glasses, to be taken more seriously.
"With every new script, we'd be like, 'Oh my god, who is this Anna?,'" says Paolo. "So we did these new boards for every episode, depending on who was talking about her, and collages of, 'Well, she should definitely have a Birkin...'"
The costume shifts also help illustrate how each of Anna's friends (or, really, marks) sees her — or wants to see her. For instance, fashion stylist Val says of Anna: "The bitch knew how to dress. Chic, Parisian couture." Cut to Anna imposingly sitting front row at New York Fashion Week in a draped off-the-shoulder blush pink dress by Jonathan Simkhai (above); a sparkling statement earring by Oscar de la Renta looks like diamonds dripping off her ears.
"Looking like an ice queen," says Paolo. "She looks like a Hitchcock blonde. She's very structural, but soft and aloof, and looks very rich."
When Anna and her app developer boyfriend Chase ("Katy Keene"'s Prince Errol Swoon, Saamer Usmani) ultimately freeload off a billionaire's yacht in Ibiza (below), she exudes Old Hollywood on the Riviera in a red off-the-shoulder Alexander McQueen dress, Aquazzura heels, Christian Dior sunnies and top-handle beach bag. (The very "To Catch a Thief"-esque scarf is fittingly custom-designed.)
Of course, the costume team infused real-life influences into Anna's wardrobe, like Delvey's penchant for wearing "baby doll dresses," as she did during her trial.
Anna first pitches her social club, The Anna Delvey Foundation, to Wall Street banker Alan (Anthony Edwards) in a club-ready rainbow sequin dress by Saloni, a green leather jacket with a chunky fur collar, Valentino Rockstud heels and a Celine bag. He immediately turns down the investment opportunity.
"It's the second that she figures out that she's not going to get what she wants dressing that way," says Paolo. "Suddenly, she's in Dolce & Gabbana suits and a lot of Prada and Gucci. She's in very straight lines and very business-like clothes, together with the right purse and with the right shoes."
When Anna takes her suckered investors and collaborators to the future site of "The A.D.F." — as she likes say — she's wearing a natty houndstooth cape by Red Valentino over an Alexis dress, authoritatively accessorized with a red Dior Lady bag (below).
It's New York City lore, at this point, how Delvey scammed the 11 Howard Hotel — staying in a $4000-a-night suite on and off for months — and befriended aspiring filmmaker and concierge Neffatari "Neff" Davis (Alexis Floyd). In recounting her first encounter with Anna, a still-starstruck Neff recalls the excitement of seeing her soon-to-be patron entering and exiting the hotel elevator, decked out in flashy designer-gear, regularly "tipping benjies," as a bellhop excitedly says.
"Those were head-to-toe [designer] outfits, even as Anna passed the money across the desk. Head-to-toe," says Paolo, whose team referred to the ensembles as "revolving doors." "You only see her sleeve, but she was completely dressed for each one of those scenes. It makes me a little bit sad that you don't see everything that we did."
To emphasize the "ludicrously expensive" nature of Anna's lifestyle and scope of her grift, Paolo's team compiled over 20 full ensembles, featuring more Gucci bags, an Alexander McQueen cape and a black and rose gold Dries van Noten coat.
When her racket begins to unravel in Marrakesh, Anna's wardrobe begins to spiral, too. "I love the fact that you know when [Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams, played by] Katie Lowes tells her part of the story, about how Anna ripped her off in Morocco, Anna is drunk on a tennis court in a hotel robe," says Paolo. (Her first look on the trip: an Etro caftan, Prada sandals and Louis Vuitton bag, above.)
The titular character's wardrobe plays a supporting role, and serves as a focal point. But this story actually unfolds through the eyes of tenacious Park Slope journalist Vivian Kent (Anna Chlumsky), who's chasing exclusive interview with Anna for Manhattan magazine, which doesn't have a women-focused culture vertical — or any top female editors, for that matter.
Paolo looked to more contemporary brands that a Brooklyn media person would wear: Rag & Bone, Boden, All Saints, Splendid, and Uniqlo. "It was a little off, because the truth is that character didn't care about clothes at all," she says, about the ideal foil to this version of Anna Delvey and her highly-documented style.
"What do you wear? Why do you dress like that? What you're wearing...You look poor," Anna, in her jailhouse jumpsuit, tells the reporter. She scoffs at an anxious Vivian, who defied her resistant (male) editor to board a bus to Rikers.
"It's so rude that Anna said that," says Paolo, with a laugh. "In reality, Anna Chlumsky was wearing really nice things. We just put them put them together in strange ways."