How far would you go to get attention for your work?
It is notoriously hard to be a young designer, or even an independent designer. It’s no longer enough just to make good stuff or have an original idea. You need to break through the noise long enough to grab the focus of the fractured world so people (the ones who may wear your clothes, or buy them, or post about them on Instagram or TikTok) look long enough and closely enough to notice what is special.
Some designers, like Piotrek Panszczyk of Area, do it by being as blingtastically absurd as possible, attracting an audience willing to gussy themselves up in rhinestone bikinis and sheer body stockings in the light of day. What better look for taking selfies while applauding a meditation on the cave man nature of capitalism via Krystle Carrington puffers made to look like minks and crystal gowns with jutting femurs between the seams?
Others do it with noise, like LaQuan Smith, who doused his bass notes and bombast in light blue this season and added a wind machine but otherwise stuck to his usual bodylicious script.
But until this season no one has done it with the help of a notorious society grifter and fake German heiress currently under house arrest.
On Monday, Anna Delvey (real name Sorokin), who became famous for conning a swath of New York rich, was later immortalized by Julia Garner in a Netflix series and served almost four years in prison, was a co-host of the fashion show debut of Shao, a genderless suiting-meets-streetwear-meets-corsetry label founded by Shao Yang.
And she didn’t just lend her (fake) name to the invitation: She lent her address too, co-hosting the event at her East Village walk-up. (Well, until her immigration case is resolved, Ms. Sorokin can’t leave the building.) Actually, it was on the silver-painted tar-papered roof of her East Village walk-up. Her apartment is too small for a fashion show.
The show was the brainchild of Kelly Cutrone, a fashion publicist who was the subject of the 2010 Bravo reality show “Kell on Earth.” Ms. Cutrone had invited Ms. Sorokin to team up on a “pop-up P.R. agency” they christened OutLaw (really), the better to exploit her brand equity for the benefit of someone else — and, perhaps, start rehabbing her reputation at the same time. Ms. Sorokin does, after all, have a history in understanding the way fashion could be used to manipulate those around her.
“It’s so hard for new designers to get any attention, and I can just get publicity — bad publicity, any publicity, just for taking out garbage,” Ms. Sorokin said before the show, sitting in her apartment, which was jammed with a film crew from Germany making a documentary on her life, the same way her fridge is jammed with LaCroix seltzers. Not that she is really shying away from the publicity. (She does still call herself Delvey.) “We’re just trying to channel it into something positive,” she said.
The fairly cynical theory: Sure, the fashion world would come for the novelty of gawking at the co-host, but at least they’d come. And if they came, they’d have to see the clothes.
The plan worked, to a certain extent. Olivier Zahm, the ever-white-jeaned editor of Purple magazine, was there, eyeing the scene from behind his trademark tinted aviators. So was the pop singer Slayyyter. So was Nicola Formichetti, Lady Gaga’s collaborator, who had moved back to New York from Los Angeles just three days before. He said that even though he hadn’t been to a fashion show for a while, he came for Anna because “I’ve been fascinated with her for so long and been waiting for what she’s going to do next, like everyone else.” He also said he thought the name of the pop-up agency was “genius.” (Ms. Sorokin said she thought it was “funny.”)
Mr. Formichetti, along with a motley gang of black-clad fashion people who had gathered outside the building on First Avenue, huffed up the six flights of stairs to the roof. There were about 100 guests, Ms. Cutrone said. The models, one of whom was toting a fuzzy little dog that had been dyed pink, arrived by party bus since there wasn’t enough room in Ms. Sorokin’s apartment for hair and makeup.
Once inside, they crammed into the narrow hallways waiting for their turn on the roof (they posed against the egress door). One of Ms. Sorokin’s neighbors, who had apparently not been alerted about what was happening and was somewhat startled by the crowd when she arrived home with her groceries, asked everyone to please be quiet so as not to scare her dog. Then Guns N’ Roses started to blast from the speakers set up on the roof.
“It’s a bit intrusive,” Ms. Sorokin admitted, having all these strangers in her building. “But I’ve also been to jail, and it’s really intrusive there too. We’ll clean it up.” Anyway, her lease was about to be up, she said, and she was going to have to move.
Ms. Sorokin was wearing a Shao black tuxedo with legs long enough to hide her ankle monitor and shoulders encrusted with rhinestones. She materialized briefly on the roof to welcome everyone and pose for photos before going back inside. The tux was something of a preview of the collection, which had a Gaultier-meets-Off-White vibe in black and white and highlighter yellow. Ms. Yang, whose family emigrated from Taiwan when she was 5, graduated from Parsons and has spent the last nine years running the Tailory, a custom suit company. She knows what she is doing.
“Not everyone would be cool with it — with us, probably, getting more attention than their work,” Ms. Sorokin acknowledged. Some might also not be cool with knowing that the first thing most people know about their work is an association with a famous scammer.
Others, however, might say it’s exactly the place fashion, an industry with famously fungible morals that tends to the Warholian and finds it impossible to resist the siren call of social media, has been heading.
“There are no more rules,” Ms. Cutrone said. “All bets are off now.”