The story of fake German heiress Anna Delvey — whose real name is Anna Sorokin — captivated New Yorkers in 2018 following the explosive New York Magazine article penned by journalist Jessica Pressler that detailed how the then-27-year-old woman conned bankers, socialites and her close friends out of thousands of dollars to fund her lavish lifestyle and designer wardrobe.
Sorokin’s story is now the subject of a new limited series, Netflix’s “Inventing Anna,” from TV producer Shonda Rhimes, which gives an even more dramatized take on the scammer’s dramatic rise and fall. The show casts actress Julia Garner as the titular character and debuts on the streaming service on Friday.
The German con artist was known for her scams as much as she was for her high-fashion wardrobe, which has been translated into the show thanks to costume designer Lyn Paolo who worked with her team to research Sorokin‘s actual wardrobe from her time in New York City through her 2019 trial.
“What was interesting about [the show] is you actually see the story of Anna through her Instagram at first,” Paolo said. “It was an interesting show because even though it was modern and fairly current, we had to do a lot of research into [Sorokin’s] Instagram because we wanted that to be true.”
Paolo’s approach to creating the character’s costumes was similar to the way that Vivian — Pressler’s reimagined character, played by actress Anna Chlumsky — goes about writing the piece on Sorokin. Both the character and Paolo did a deep dive on Sorokin‘s Instagram, with the costume designer and her team sourcing actual garments and accessories that Sorokin wore during her time in New York and her international travels.
The costume designer explained that there virtually wasn’t a high-end designer label that wasn’t included in the show’s nine episodes. Chanel, Dior, Celine, Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Gucci and Balenciaga are just some of the design houses prominently featured in the show. Paolo estimated that roughly 97 percent of Garner’s costumes in the show are what Sorokin actually wore in real life. Many pieces were the actual designer garments, while others were recreated in the show’s costume studio.
“We literally spent months researching everything, finding the brand and reaching out to the brand or on The RealReal or a vintage store,” she explained. “It was sort of a dichotomy because we were matching [the fashion] quite seriously that you normally wouldn’t do I think on a current TV show.”
Many of the “Inventing Anna” episodes center on a specific character who was friends with or impacted by Sorokin. As each character had a different narrative for the con artist, her fashion also reflected her changing nature. Some characters are fictional, while others were real people impacted by Sorokin’s crimes.
“It wasn’t just about putting pretty clothes on a pretty human,” Paolo said. “It was telling the story that Anna kept reinventing herself. It was an interesting project in that you have several different levels of storytelling with all the different Annas, but then you have the real Anna, too. We were true to her as much as we could be. For me, it was an interesting jigsaw puzzle.”
With Sorokin’s changing persona came a different style. When telling the story from the perspective of lifestyle mogul Talia Mallay — played by Marika Dominczyk — who vacations in the Hamptons and Ibiza, Sorokin is seen wearing an array of colorful caftans and high-end resortwear. When Sorokin attends New York Fashion Week with stylist Val — played by James Cusati-Moyer — the character resembles a “Hitchcock blonde” with her elegant, chic style. With socialite Nora — played by Kate Norton — Sorokin wears Chanel jackets and logo-bearing designer handbags to fit in with her highbrow friends.
“Anna amped up her fashion game because she was playing with the big boys or the big girls,” the costume designer said. “You can tell when you’re walking down the street if someone is in whatever designer. The general public might just think that lady looks nice, but for us it was important to show the different stages of how Anna elevated herself.”
While accuracy was important for Paolo throughout the series, it was especially important for the episodes depicting Sorokin‘s trial once she was finally caught. Sorokin‘s real-life trial captivated many, as the scammer enlisted stylist Anastasia Walker who dressed her in Michael Kors, Saint Laurent, Victoria Beckham and her signature black-rimmed Celine glasses.
“We tried to match as much as we could,” Paolo said. “A couple of times we made it a little bit worse because you want to feel sad for Anna. There’s a point where you think, ‘Oh, I hope she’s going to win,’ but I felt like we tried to be as true as we could and it was less about costume design and it was more about the research and managing the storyline. Like you wanted the audience to know the days were passing, but it was still fun.”
Overall, Paolo explained the show’s costumes reflect Sorokin‘s notion of “dressing the way you think you have to” in order to succeed, which played a large role in her elaborate schemes.
“She was just a chameleon, don’t you think?” Paolo concluded. “That was the story we were telling. I don’t know the real Anna.”
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