At first, Vanity Fair photographer Rachel DeLoache Williams thought she found a lifelong friend and fellow adventurer in Anna Delvey. Rachel believed Anna's stories about being a German heiress and visionary art collector. But Anna wasn't who she said she was — and that became blisteringly clear on a lavish trip to Morocco, when Rachel ended up footing a £45,000 bill for Anna.
Over the course of her memoir, My Friend Anna, out July 23, Williams writes about how she learned her friend was really a con artist named Anna Sorokin, recently sentenced to 4 to 12 years in prison. The following is an excerpt about their best of times, printed with permission from Simon & Schuster.
So, on this particular Wednesday, I had already joined Anna to exercise, eat breakfast, and hunt for apartments. In three and a half days, I had spent more time with her than I did with most of my best friends over the course of a month. Still, our marathon day together wasn’t over. Garbage pamphlets in tow, we grabbed a bite to eat before going to the nail salon. In Blue Ribbon Sushi, on Sullivan Street, we sat at the bar. At eye level, just in front of us, colourful cuts of seafood were displayed in a curved window. I stared at a lone octopus tentacle on a plate, admiring its spectacular array of tiny suction cups. Simultaneously repulsed and delighted, I took an iPhone photo to document it.
“I like sushi, but it’s kind of new to me,” I confessed. “My mom doesn’t like fish, so we never ate it growing up.” To me, that octopus tentacle looked like a severed monster’s tongue— it did nothing to pique my appetite.
Anna had eaten sushi often with Hunter, [another friend of hers], she said, so I left the ordering up to her. Ordinarily, I’d have chosen something on the “safe side”—like a California roll or rock-shrimp tempura—but I was happy for an excuse to try something new (so long as it was tentacle-free). She rattled off the names of unfamiliar-sounding dishes like an expert: hamachi, spicy scallop hand rolls, uni, ikura, and two glasses of white wine.
Anna was frequently giving me an education in popular culture references. At this meal, for instance, she was surprised to learn that I knew nothing about Danielle Bregoli, a young teenager who’d recently become famous for coining the phrase “Cash me outside, how ’bout dat” on an episode of Dr. Phil. Anna played me the segment, entitled “I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime.” While we waited for our food, she showed me the YouTube clip, in which Bregoli, a baby-faced teenager with flat-ironed hair and huge hoop earrings, described her bad behaviour without an ounce of remorse. When she noticed members of the talk show audience laughing at her, Bregoli smugly called them “hoes” and dared them to catch her outside. When Dr. Phil asked what she meant by that, Bregoli’s mother chimed in to clarify: it “means she’ll go outside and do what she has to do.”
I guess Bregoli’s bravado, and her self-proclaimed “street” talk, made the scene funny. I watched as Anna laughed. I wanted to see the humour in the same way that she did, but Bregoli reminded me of people from my middle school, kids who came from tough neighbourhoods, from tough families, who acted out in class because they craved attention so badly that they got it however they could. It made me sad. Noting my mixed reaction, Anna quickly pointed out Bregoli’s resulting fame, citing her Instagram account as evidence. But this bit of information only made me feel worse. The show’s ostensible purpose had been to teach this girl that her delinquent behaviour had negative consequences. Instead, it had made her “internet famous.”
I was aware of my own disapproval and was afraid it made me prudish, so I actively worked to dismiss it. Why did I have to take everything so seriously? Did it matter? Couldn’t I just go along with the joke?
The dynamic of my friendship with Anna was beginning to fall into place. She challenged me to be less uptight and less judgmental, to cut loose and have fun. At the same time, she invited me into her world of hotels, restaurants, and offbeat activities. I became both her audience and companion. I guess part of me aspired to be more like her.
I paid the bill for lunch, and on our way to get pedicures, we perfunctorily evaluated our fingernails in the back seat of an Uber. Anna’s looked like pumpkin seeds, painted a sandy nude tone and filed to a dull central point. “I figured it out,” she said, referring to their shape. “I keep them this way and they don’t break.” Anna had a signature fidget — she did it when her mind seemed to wander — as she demonstrated just then in the car. She would use the fingers of one hand to pinch the nails on her other, like making two shadow puppets kiss.
“It drives my father crazy,” she said, aware that I was looking. He thought her habit gave the impression that something was wrong with her, she said. Her face broke into a grin as she wondered aloud if he was right. On the inside of Anna’s right wrist was a tattoo, in black ink, a cartoon outline of a ribbon tied into a bow. I’d seen it before but never asked about its significance. “How long have you had that tattoo?” I said.
Anna had gotten it when she was young, she told me, as an ode to Marie Antoinette. She had written an essay about the ill-fated queen for school, and developed a subsequent fascination. I couldn’t imagine why she’d have looked up to a woman rumoured to have said, “Let them eat cake,” when she heard people were starving, so I thought of Anna instead a- year-old, watching Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and idealising Kirsten Dunst. Surely, that was the Marie Antoinette she idolised.
“I’ve had it for so long, I barely notice it anymore,” she told me. Her tone was suddenly dismissive, implying that her admiration for such a person had faded.
She invited me into her world of hotels, restaurants, and offbeat activities. I became both her audience and companion. I guess part of me aspired to be more like her.
Rachel DeLoache Williams on Anna Delvey
We arrived at Golden Tree Nails & Spa, which I had chosen because the staff was always so nice and attentive. We entered to a wave of hellos and proceeded to the shelves of multicoloured polish. Bordeaux red was my pick. I can’t recall Anna’s. We sat next to each other in massage chairs, looking down at our phones while our technicians filled the water basins at our feet, testing the temperature and readying their tools. Anna, who had a way of making routine activities into an adventure, announced she wanted some wine.
“Go for it,” I said, agreeing to join her for a glass. I was already a little light-headed from the glass of wine at lunchtime, but I went along with her plan, as usual. Anna ordered a bottle of white wine through an app on her phone to be delivered directly to the nail salon. We sat quietly as our feet were groomed and the automated chairs massaged our backs.
Anna broke the silence. “We should do the infrared sauna,” she suggested.
Ten minutes into the 45-minute session, we were drenched. If someone had entered the room at that moment, they’d have seen two red-faced girls in white towels sweating profusely with their hair in topknots, taking sips of wine between giggles as they listened to music inside of a light box that changed colour every few minutes. It sounds like a lot, I know, but it really was a blast.
Occasionally, Anna would sing along to a song under her breath, songs that I hadn’t expected she would like, such as Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” These songs reminded Anna of Olivier Zahm, she said, the editor-in-chief from Purple magazine, where she’d interned. She told me that he’d played music like that when they rode in the car together. It didn’t occur to me to ask where they’d been driving — maybe I assumed it was around Paris or to Purple’s printer, which Anna had said was not far from her hometown in Germany.
Anna told me much more about her life than I told her about mine, which was fine by me. I’ve been a private person since I was a little kid and was happy to be the listener.
Drinking wine in a sauna is a bad idea. Anna and I had joked about it, telling ourselves that the combination would make us break even — that we’d sweat out the toxins as we took them on board — but in reality we grew woozy from dehydration. I was the first one to tap out. I switched to water, and by the end of our session, even without more wine, both of us were spent. Our feet left sweat puddles on the floor as we stepped out from the sauna. Once we’d showered off, we sat for a moment to cool down. Then, on opposite sides of the booth, we laughed at how hard it was to put our clothing back on, skinny jeans on wet legs.
We carried our warmth into the cold night air. Steam rose from our bodies as we waited for a car. We ended the evening with a nightcap at the Library, back at 11 Howard. I drank a green juice, while Anna had a glass of wine. What a bizarre and full Wednesday it had been, a day which otherwise, without Anna, would have been run-of-the-mill. I didn’t know that much about her, nor she about me, but Anna and I had found our rhythm, and in the course of a single day, we had established the activities and places that would be central to our friendship in the months to come.