Anna Delvey, the infamous “Soho grifter”, was not going to miss out on New York fashion week because of an ankle bracelet and home detention. So fashion came to her, or more precisely to the rooftop of her East Village apartment.

In what has been judged an excitement-starved start to September’s round of fashion weeks, it was Delvey’s mission to shake it up by hosting Shao, an emerging young designer, in a chaotic show under stormy skies that organisers feared would be shut down by the police before it even began.

“So much fun … too much fun to describe,” was how the Russian-born Delvey, 32, whose real name is Anna Sorokin, described it. Where Delvey sits on the spectrum of fashion’s accelerating celebrification is hard to say, but Lady Gaga’s stylist, Nicola Formichetti, said he felt Delvey was like the late British fashion icon Isabella Blow: “super passionate without so much planning”.

“People are obsessed with Anna. It’s not like she’s a fashion plate or authority, but I love the fact she’s using her position to promote and elevate a young designer,” he said. “Fashion is about promoting young designers and I feel like no one is doing that any more.”

Delvey, 32, was arrested in 2017 and found guilty of attempted grand larceny after posing as a wealthy German art patron, blowing more than $275,000 on private jets and luxury hotel stays. The Netflix series Inventing Anna, based on her story, was broadcast while she was doing time in prison. She remains under house arrest for overstaying her visa.

Delvey and the legendary New York publicist Kelly Cutrone conceived the rooftop show in a matter of days. Among the models were the Native American Quannah Chasinghorse and the 55-year-old Siberian Irina Pantaeva, who came to New York in the 90s to be a nanny but ended up working as a Chanel model. Chasinghorse said: “It was a good experience to do a fashion show on a rooftop and in the rain.”

Against the New York skyline, the show fittingly opened to Woke Up This Morning, the Sopranos theme, and Billy Idol’s Hot in the City. Models rounded the stairwell in outfits invoking tailored, punky, East Village history. But some models didn’t make it to the roof, such was the chaos.

“It was a challenge,” Delvey said. “I had like 30 people show up at my apartment. I guess that’s the beauty of it – how to work within constraints. I’m tied to this one spot. We can’t just go where ever, whenever. We had to work with it.”

“We called the show Danger Zone,” Shao Yang, the designer, said. “It’s old New York, fun and spontaneous, the 80s, with the culture, inclusivity, diversity, everything.”

The show’s stylist, Jules Wood, who used to work at Vivienne Westwood Couture and is now editor-in-chief of Reserved magazine, described the designs as Jean Paul Gaultier meets Blade Runner via fine tailoring. Wood said the show nearly didn’t come off. “Vivienne would have approved – a bit guerilla with a fuck-you kind of attitude.”

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Still, the crowds trying to make it up to Delvey’s rooftop proved her celebrity has not dimmed. “She has an interesting perspective on the fashion industry and the exclusivity of it,” said the show’s hair stylist, Jason Backe. “She’s obviously an opportunist but this is an opportunity for her to leverage, in a good Samaritan kind of way.”

This article was amended on 13 September 2023. An earlier version incorrectly described Jules Wood as a “former bridal director at Vivienne Westwood”.

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