In season 1, episode 2 of Katy Keene “You Can’t Hurry Love,” Katy (Lucy Hale) makes the tough choice of whether or not to marry boxer boyfriend K.O. (Zane Holtz). Her best British pal Pepper Smith (Julia Chan) has a bigger mission: Pulling an Anna Delvey on New York City.
When we first meet Pepper in the pilot episode of Katy Keene, we’re informed she is a posh gossip columnist with a rolodex of elite connections and, seemingly, a stacked bank account. The second episode reveals that only some of this is true. Pepper clearly isn’t as rich as she pretends to be: The hotel she’s living in desperately needs her to pay her bill, and despite her many excuses, it’s obvious that Pepper can’t.
Pepper’s dream is to open a version of Andy Warhol’s Factory in New York — to do that, she needs capital, something she’s sorely lacking at the moment. Fortunately, Pepper always thinks on her feet. She blackmails the real estate agent into renting her a coveted warehouse space for lower than asking price, then finds an investor to cover the cost of the space. It seems like her dreams are on track to becoming reality.
There is the whole issue of her living situation, though. Pepper has the support of secret girlfriend Didi (Candace Maxwell), the concierge at the hotel, who looks the other way to Pepper’s financial woes. Unfortunately, Didi can only do so much to protect her, and eventually, she informs Pepper that the hotel has deactivated her key card until she can pony up the $60,000 bill.
Pepper has no choice but to squat in her newly-acquired warehouse, thinking that, well, hey — things could be worse. Then they get worse. Pepper’s investor is fired from the bank for drug possession, meaning her way to pay rent on the warehouse is completely off the table.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s probably because Pepper’s plotline sounds suspiciously like the real story of Anna Delvey, a woman who posed as a wealthy German heiress in order to scam Manhattan out of thousands of dollars.
Delvey, whose real name is Anna Sorokin, was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison in May of 2019 on four counts of theft of services, three counts of grand larceny, and one count of attempted grand larceny.
Delvey, the daughter of a truck driver, migrated to the United States in 2014, alleging that she was the daughter of an oil baron. Over the course of 10 months, Delvey — posing as a member of the 1% — defrauded friends and financial institutions out of $275,000 in cash and services. This included a luxury trip to Morocco, paid for by former Vanity Fair editor Rachel DeLoache Williams, who would later go on to write a book about her experience with the so-called “Soho grifter.”
While the real story of Delvey isn’t quite the same as the one featured in Katy Keene, there are some notable similarities. One of the first stories about Delvey, published in The Cut, interviews her former friend, 11 Howard concierge Neffatari "Neff" Davis. Pepper’s friend Didi may very well be a stand-in for Neff.
Perhaps the most glaring similarity, however, is that both Pepper and Delvey had plans to create an “arts club” in Manhattan — and had to secure a massive loan in order to score the space. Delvey claimed that she wanted to open the club since coming into her (nonexistent) trust fund, and attempted to secure the loans necessary by creating fraudulent documents. It didn’t work: Delvey’s grifting caught up to her instead.
As for Pepper, it’s unclear exactly what her scam is, or if she could face any legal ramifications for her Warhol-adjacent project. Is she a true grifter, or is she just faking it until she makes it? Unlike Delvey, who had no real job to speak of, Pepper does have her gossip column to fall back on.
Katy Keene may be playing homage to Delvey’s crazy story, but soon we’ll see a TV series that won’t just have to allude to the Soho grifter. Shonda Rhimes is producing a series for Netflix all about Delvey, titled Inventing Anna, with Ozark’s Julia Garner as the famous con artist.
Exactly who Pepper really is, what she’s lying about, and why she’s doing so may be the juiciest plot Katy Keene has to offer. Stay tuned...