Whatever Happened To Delia's?

Once upon a time — before online shopping and thrifting were many young people's favorite ways to shop — teenage girls were obsessed with Delia's. "We got a huge response from high school kids. So basically the market found us," Steve Kahn, the co-founder — with Chris Edgar, his former roommate from Yale — and CEO of Delia's catalog, told Chief Marketer back in 1998. That catalog was killing it, making girls want to shop for those sassy, fun, and trendy garments.

Launched in 1993, Delia's eventually expanded beyond just the catalog and opened a brick-and-mortar store in 1999. Many people who shopped in the mall-loving Y2K era likely remember seeing countless teenagers grinning as they walked — or ran — into Delia's with their friends or families. But those physical stores shared an unfortunate fate, similar to what happened to Wet Seal, The Limited, and many other once-trendy stores in malls. However, Delia's has an interesting story that isn't over just yet.

Delia's had happy employees but less impressive stores

If, when flipping through a Delia's catalog back in the day, the models appeared to be having a great time, it's because they were. The catalog models genuinely enjoyed working for Delia's at the time. "I was mentally going through a lot on the outside world, and then having a place like Delia's, it was like therapy ... All of the people were just the coolest," Stacie Janelle Fishman, a model for the early years of Delia's, told Vice. She added, "When we were in that studio, we could talk about whatever we wanted, speak our minds, play loud music, scream, and cry if we needed to ... It felt like a family. It felt like this was ours, and our moment to be ourselves." Plus, many of Delia's creative and merchandising employees were women who had a lot in common with the brand's themes and clientele.

While Delia's had a talented team of happy employees and an iconic, captivating catalog, the brand's in-person shopping experience didn't live up to the hype that the catalog inspired. After all, impressing teenagers on paper and in person are two completely different tasks. "They just couldn't translate the magic of the print to stores," said Jim Trzaska, a Delia's photo producer hired back in the company's early days who also helped with buying and merchandising (per Fast Company).

Delia's filed for bankruptcy in 2014

Delia's thrived for a minute, but there's arguably nothing shorter and more unpredictable than the teenage attention span — especially when it comes to fashion and trends. In 2003, Alloy Inc. obtained Delia's for millions of dollars. Then, HRSH Acquisitions LLC bought Delia's for several million dollars in 2013. But the leadership changes didn't save the brand from its — temporary — downfall.

Eventually, the once-popular shopping destination for teens stood no match for digital and more affordable options. "Those two things [online-focused competitors and the economy] fairly quickly should have forced the company to think about their proposition and think about how they were going to compete longer-term but by the time they seemed to get around to that and bring in Tracy [a different CEO coming from J. Crew], it started to feel it was all too late," Wendy Liebmann, CEO of WSL Strategic Retail in New York, told BuzzFeed News in 2014.

Although Delia's had cute clothes and fun vibes, those loveable qualities weren't enough to help the stores convince girls to keep shopping from the company. Teenage girls are famously competitive — and must be clever enough to convince their guardians to give them the money for trendy clothes and accessories — and the adults who market to that audience must be even more competitive and clever, not only to succeed but to survive. And Delia's couldn't do it. In 2014, the brand filed for bankruptcy.

Delia's returned in 2018 — with the brand Dolls Kill

Anyone who missed Delia's after its temporary downfall and has a soft spot for nostalgia should be happy to know that the brand's journey wasn't permanently over in 2014. In 2018, Delia's came back, thanks to Dolls Kill. These days, any online shopper can find affordable Delia's items on the Dolls Kill website under "Delia's by Dolls Kill." Some of the many options include dresses, footwear, tops, outerwear, and jeans. For instance, the Delia's by Dolls Kill Tour Guide 2-Pack Baby Tees sell for $48, and the Delia's by Dolls Kill Slacker Bliss Babydoll Dress is available for $36.

While the brand made a few new items, the team focused more on bringing back old favorites. "People in the office said, 'Hey, I had this. I've been trying to find it online and it's impossible. We need to remake it,'" Shaudi Lynn, the designer who co-founded Doll's Kill, told Elle, adding, "Fashion is a circle ... what we're bringing to all our lines, including the Delia's line, is that you can take any one piece and wear it how you want, with whatever you want, so it fits in your own life."

The future of Delia's

Considering how '90s fashion trends are back in style in the 2020s, Delia's has a good chance of staying successful during its second life. "We don't see that '90s aesthetic going anywhere... It made sense to bring it back," Madelyn Wicks, a Dolls Kill associate buyer, told Business Insider. 

Without social media marketing, it seems impossible for a fashion brand revival to succeed in the 2020s. So, of course, Delia's has a social media presence. Delia's has an Instagram account with over 4,000 posts and 330,000 followers in 2023. In the bio, the brand fittingly says, "eVeRy1 LUVS a CoMeBack." Delia's also has a Facebook account with 528,000 followers and is on X, formerly known as Twitter, with more than 7,400 followers. However, Delia's doesn't have a TikTok presence yet, so if the brand wants a lasting, successful comeback that appeals to younger generations and social media enthusiasts, a TikTok presence would probably be helpful. Dolls Kill has a TikTok page with over a million followers, but only time will tell if that will be enough. 

Ultimately, if Delia's can keep bringing joy to nostalgia-loving Millennials and their kids, the odds seem to be in the brand's favor. "When I look at Delia's, I find that happy place again," former Delia's model Stacie Janelle Fishman told Vice, adding, "I look back on those times and I think, 'Wow, I really want to retain that spirit.' I need some of that for my life now."