• Entertainment
  • streaming

How Inventing Anna Meticulously Recreated Scammer Anna Delvey’s Glamorous Wardrobe

9 minute read

Lyn Paolo was hired as the costume designer on Netflix’s miniseries Inventing Anna, but she often felt more like a detective.

The Shonda Rhimes-produced project, out today, examines the internet’s favorite scammer: Anna Delvey (née Sorokin). The show is based on a 2018 New York Magazine article that exposed how, between 2013 and 2017, Sorokin posed as a German heiress and stole more than $275,000 from banks, hotels, and her wealthy New York City acquaintances.

Paolo was tasked with returning viewers to the scene of the “Soho grifter’s” crimes one outfit at a time. “Shonda was very clear: she wanted to match the real Anna exactly whenever possible,” says Paolo, who’s Rhimes’ go-to costumer (Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder). “[It] was like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle and finding all these tiny bits.”

Paolo and her co-designer, Laura Frecon, spent hours studying Sorokin’s Instagram account for clues about what brands she wore during her scamming heyday. Sometimes, when they needed help fact-checking their findings, they enlisted members of the Inventing Anna production team. “We would give them pictures and say, ‘This is Anna’s foot or Anna’s arm,’” she says. “Then they would, with our help, look at what was on the runways and what was in stores at that time to make sure we had it right.”

Fashion was one of the ways Sorokin fooled people into believing she was a wealthy heiress launching a private social club and art foundation. She reportedly wore clothing by high-end designers such as Alaïa, Dior, Valentino, and Miu Miu. Throughout her trial, she donned a pair of black Céline eyeglasses that quickly became her signature accessory. (Propmaster Max E. Brehme was able to find the same style of frames that Sorokin wore.) In actuality, though, the Russian-born, German-raised daughter of a trucker wasn’t a trust-fund kid. She just dressed like one.

In 2019, Sorokin was convicted on eight counts, including grand larceny in the first, second, and third degrees, and sentenced to four to 12 years in prison. Following her early release in February 2021, she was taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for overstaying her visa. She is currently in ICE detention waiting to learn whether the U.S. will deport her to Germany.

While Paolo’s not a fan of Sorokin’s style, which she described as “a little Soho downtown, a little clubwear,” she believes that she was a talented chameleon. “I think Anna was a good observer,” she says of Sorokin’s fashion evolution over the course of those four years. “I think she was smart enough to blend in.” Paolo played with that concept when dressing the fictional Anna (Ozark’s Julia Garner), whose clothes get sleeker and more expensive as she becomes more ensconced in Manhattan’s upper echelon. She admits that not all of the show’s looks are true to Sorokin’s style: “Our Anna needed to look a little more elevated than the real Anna.”

Here, Paolo explains how she recreated Anna’s signature choker, perfectly pressed prison uniforms, and designer trial looks.

Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in episode 104 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in episode 104 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX—© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

All Black Everything

Scroll through Sorokin’s Instagram, and you’ll notice she favored black. One dress in particular became a staple of Sorokin’s going-out wardrobe: a black Aläia knit dress. When Paolo and her team finally found the tight, long-sleeved mini dress after trolling vintage shops and online consignment stores, it was two sizes too big for Garner. “We had to cut it down, and we were praying it would work because it’s like a stretch knit, which is pretty hard to alter,” she says. Fortunately, the alteration worked and the garment became integral to Garner’s acting process. “I think she felt like she was inhabiting the real Anna when she wore that,” Paolo says. “That was a useful thing for Julia.”

Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in episode 104 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
Inventing Anna. Julia Garner as Anna Delvery in episode 104 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX—© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

Little White Details

Amid a sea of little black dresses, Paolo often added a pop of white to Anna’s wardrobe. In episode 4, Anna wears an Emily Wickstead one-shouldered black gown with a big white bow on the shoulder when she’s toasting to her future. At that moment she believes she’s going to get her loan and open her club. “Those are sort of pivotal moments for Anna,” Paolo says. Any time you see Anna in a black and white number, she says, “It’s a, ‘Is it going to happen or not going to happen?’ kind of vibe.”

Julia Garner in 'Inventing Anna'Aaron Epstein/Netflix

Anna’s Hollywood Entrance

When Anna arrives in Ibiza with her boyfriend in episode 2, Paolo wanted to ensure her costume left viewers in awe. “I said to Shonda, ‘I want that To Catch a Thief moment,'” she recalls. Channeling Grace Kelly in that 1955 Alfred Hitchcock caper, Anna is wearing big Christian Dior sunglasses and a scarf wrapped around her blonde hair that was custom made to match her red “fun, not fussy” Alexander McQueen dress. If you look closely, you’ll notice the Dior bag Anna is holding on the yacht has the name “Delvey” embroidered on it. “We didn’t cheat with the bags, that’s a real Dior, but Dior couldn’t help us with the detailing,” Paolo says. So they show had a seamstress in Los Angeles create a nameplate applique that was stitched on for the shoot.

Anna’s Girlboss Attire

In episode 4, Anna is in full business mode as she gives investors a tour of the Park Avenue mansion she hopes to turn into a club. Paolo didn’t want the character to wear another coat. “It didn’t feel special enough,” she says. So she went with a black, white, and red plaid Valentino cape and a pair of black Sermoneta gloves to cover Garner’s arms.

The indoor scene was filmed months before the actress would have to shoot an exterior shot on the streets of New York City in the middle of winter. “I was really trying to protect Julia from the freezing cold,” she says. “But I’m a big fan of the glove.”

The Saddest Robe

Paolo’s favorite costume from Inventing Anna isn’t a designer frock. It’s a white robe used in a pivotal moment in episode 6, in which Anna, trapped in a luxury Moroccan resort because she can’t pay her five-figure bill, realizes the jig is up. Paolo loves how Anna “devolves” in the scene, facing the consequences of her scamming for the first time. She’s not a criminal mastermind, but a frightened young woman in a foreign country. Paolo pointed out that everything Anna is wearing at that moment is property of the resort: “The hotel owns her, and they’re not going to let her leave” until she pays them.

Paolo and her team had a lot of discussions about what kind of robe would make Anna look frail: something silk? Terrycloth? Velour? “We went with the big fluffy robe,” she says. “I did like that Julia felt diminished in it. It’s overwhelming her, and that moment is overwhelming for Anna. There’s just something about her being wrapped in that robe that feels iconic for the character.”

Inventing Anna. (L to R) Julia Garner as Anna Delvery, Arian Moayed as Todd Spodek in episode 109 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021
Inventing Anna. (L to R) Julia Garner as Anna Delvery, Arian Moayed as Todd Spodek in episode 109 of Inventing Anna. Cr. Nicole Rivelli/Netflix © 2021NICOLE RIVELLI/NETFLIX—© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

Anna’s Courtroom Wardrobe

During her trial, Sorokin treated the courtroom as a runway. Her legal team hired celebrity stylist Anastasia Walker, who reportedly dressed Sorokin in designers such as Miu Miu, Michael Kors, Yves Saint Laurent, and Victoria Beckham. “We were reaching out to a lot of brands because it was quoted that she wore certain designers [during the trial]. But, in fact, she may not have,” Paolo says. “I’m not sure whether Anna was fibbing or the designers are not fessing to it. I don’t know what the deal is, but we think we got the right designers.”

There was one detail, though, that Paolo knew she couldn’t get wrong: Anna’s black choker. In nearly every photo from the trial, Sorokin is wearing a black ribbon around her neck. “She always wore that little choker. If you see pictures of her at parties, she wears it too,” Paolo says. “People did it in the ‘80s and in the ‘60s, but it’s not such a thing anymore. Maybe to her that felt European in a way.”

Prison, But Make It Fashion

In the miniseries, Anna tells Vivian (Veep’s Anna Chlumsky), a journalist interviewing her in prison, that she “accessorized and pressed” her khaki prison jumpsuit. While it’s unlilely Sorokin was able to do this, Paolo ensured Anna’s jail clothes were always wrinkle-free. “We had more than one pair for the day so that Julia could change into a fresh-pressed pair before or after lunch,” she says. The other inmates wore rumpled oversized jumpsuits, which helped Anna look more put together in her large but tailored clothes.

All of the prison wear was stone washed, which is a laundering technique that uses large rocks to give a new garment a worn-in appearance. The process made the standardized clothing appear extra fashionable. “For me, it looks very Norma Kamali or ’80s Donna Karan,” Paolo says. “I feel like if I had added a black leather belt that I tied in a bow in the front, a pair of heels, and some cool earrings, she could have gone out in that.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com