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Inside ‘fake heiress’ Anna Delvey’s rooftop fashion show — hosted under house arrest

By Jacqui Palumbo and Alex Rees, CNN

New York City (CNN) — Swarming crowds and extravagant locations are par for the course at New York Fashion Week. But sometimes it’s the smallest venues that leave the biggest impression.

On Monday, a packed rooftop show hosted by convicted felon Anna Delvey became one of the more unusual runways the city has seen in recent years. And that’s before taking the post-show pizza party into consideration.

Delvey (real last name Sorokin) has been under house arrest for nearly a year as she appeals deportation to Germany following a two-year stint in prison for grand larceny, among other financial crimes, and an additional 18 months detained by immigration authorities for overstaying her visa. Her ascent up New York’s social ladder as a “fake heiress” and subsequent downfall for defrauding financial institutions (and others) out of more than $200,000 were recounted in multiple magazine features and a book written by a former bestie, before being dramatized in the Netflix miniseries “Inventing Anna” last year.

Thanks to her court-ordered ankle monitor, Delvey’s involvement in New York Fashion Week — or, indeed, any event that would see her going outside — might have been limited. But as it happened, fashion week came to her with the help of powerhouse publicist, and owner of the PR agency People’s Revolution, Kelly Cutrone.

The pair have formed a new “pop-up fashion PR agency” called the OutLaw Agency. The first designer they chose to showcase was Shao Yang, a bespoke tailor debuting her new label, Shao.

Though Delvey’s taste for designer clothes is well documented, with her carefully-curated courtroom looks often going viral during her 2019 trial, her involvement in a runway show has understandably sparked skepticism.

But in a video call with CNN the day after the show, Delvey stepped handily into the role of publicist. “I love the clothes — I would have never done this if we didn’t love the collection,” she said. “Because, yeah, I mean I can get publicity doing anything,” she said with a laugh.

‘Wouldn’t that be great press?’

Debut collections can often make a splash, but typically not under these conditions.

Hosted atop Delvey’s apartment building in New York’s East Village (so that she never had to leave the premises), attendees packed onto a wet rooftop that almost certainly wasn’t intended to hold large, raucous crowds, following a downpour less than an hour prior. Though Delvey said she didn’t obtain permission from her landlord in order to spare him potential liability, she did seek neighbors’ approval to host the show.

Outside, as guests sipped on drinks and smoked while waiting to be admitted by two brusque bouncers in black T-shirts and jeans, one woman — apparently a neighbor of Delvey’s — was quickly allowed to bypass the line so that she and her little pet dachshund could get home. As the crowd swelled, designer Yang was at one point almost denied access to her own show.

Models reached the stairs from a double-parked party bus on the street then climbed five stories up to the rooftop, where guests including Nicola Formichetti and former “Real Housewives of New York” star Leah McSweeney sat in close quarters. Some guests went as far as to brave seats on the building’s brick parapet.

Post-show, Cutrone, in den mother mode, loudly discouraged models from getting too close to the rooftop’s edge for the requisite selfies, though at one point was heard remarking deadpan to Delvey: “What if we fell off and died? Wouldn’t that be great press?”

Yang’s collection spanned sharp tailoring, pinstripe pieces, oversize shirt dresses and denim workwear with contrasting stitching details. Amid a primarily black and white color palette, a high-waisted skirt in a mottled, metallic silver pattern stood out, as did a pop of acid neon yellow on one of the label’s suits. With models navigating a single, narrow loop in front of an air conditioning unit — some more successfully than others — there were moments when proceedings all felt a bit chaotic, though this was perhaps inevitable given the circumstances.

‘People can think whatever they want’

Yang, who joined Delvey on the video call with CNN, said that her collection was “very inspired by old New York, especially the ’80s.”

“Everything in the collection is completely genderless — anybody can wear it,” she added. “It’s very important for me to have clothes that are not super fussy; you should be able to love it — put it on, feel like yourself, feel great, and then walk out the door.”

The designer was enthusiastic about the outcome of the show. She recounted being on board the moment Cutrone presented the idea to her, despite the fact that Yang knew Delvey’s notoriety might attract more press than the clothes themselves.

“I thought it was brilliant,” Yang said. “I feel blessed just be a part of it, because as a new designer with a new brand, no one’s going to come to your show. No one’s going to really know about you.”

As Yang described her collection, Delvey chimed in with an anecdote about getting disciplined in prison for hand-sewing alterations to her uniform.

“I learned about a lot about tailoring being in jail,” she said.

During a post-show press gaggle, Cutrone told reporters that two agencies had pulled their models from the show upon learning of Delvey’s involvement. Asked about this in the video call the next day, Delvey, seemingly unaware, declined to comment. She separately said that another modeling agency had bucked industry norms by asking to be paid upfront.

“If you’re not feeling comfortable, whatever… no hard feelings,” she said. “I’m like, I Google myself.”

She and Cutrone have more ideas in the works, but the collaboration “is all so fresh,” she said. For now, Delvey added, she wants to direct all the focus to Yang’s new label.

“It’s all about Shao,” she said. “People can think whatever they want, but we just like having fun and they can take it or leave it. Who cares?”

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