What Happened To Club Libby Lu?

If you were a little girl in the early 2000s, there's a good chance that you remember the mall party palace experience that was Club Libby Lu. Club Libby Lu was a space for young girls who wished to personify Y2K fashion and the female icons of the era, like Paris Hilton, Hannah Montana, and Britney Spears. While merchandise was sold in the stores, what the Club really sold was an exclusive experience.

Basically, any little girl with parents who could afford it could experience a party (or a one-off makeover) fit for a princess, a rock star, or a pop diva — right down to the crop top, the body glitter, and the (stuffed) miniature dog designed to fit into a designer purse. What possibly could have gone wrong with such a hyper-feminine dreamland for preteen girls? Let's examine the rise and fall of Club Libby Lu, as both a business and a concept.

The perfect cultural storm

Before those who came of age before or after the late 1990s and early 2000s can truly understand the impact of Club Libby Lu, they may need to explore the popular media of the time. Beloved female celebrities included pop princess Britney Spears, socialite Paris Hilton, and Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana. The It girls of the day were constantly photographed in tiny pink garments and covered in bling. They jetted from one party to another carrying designer dogs in designer handbags as accessories, and "Mean Girls" was a smash hit at the box office.

The gender binary — a term most people still hadn't even heard of — was still enforced nearly as strictly as law in most homes and certainly in public. This unique set of cultural circumstances created space in the market for a company to cash in on preteen girls yearning to experience life the way their favorite pop culture icons did. Former Claire's executive, Mary Drolet, immediately spotted this opportunity and founded Club Libby Lu in 2000.

The rise of Club Libby Lu

By 2003, Club Libby Lu — which had expanded to 11 locations — had been purchased by Saks, Inc. Birthday parties were the stores' bread and butter. Each party included a personal assistant assigned to the birthday girl along with glittery Y2K makeovers, manicures, party favors (like a DIY lip balm or body spray), and a dance party for her and all her attendees, which sometimes spilled out into the rest of the mall.

During this era, everyone who was anyone in preteen girl circles had their birthday party at a Club Libby Lu store. If they were especially lucky, they were allowed to go in between parties for a makeover with a friend or two. The Club Libby Lu experience was a status symbol that every girl wanted to get her hands on. This continued until The Great Recession hit America in 2008 and parents suddenly began examining their expenses with a more discerning eye. 

The fall of Club Libby Lu

During The Great Recession, which lasted from 2008 to 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate doubled and home values fell 30%. The financial toll this took on the average working-class American family translated into a shift from a willingness to pay for unique experiences to prioritizing only essential purchases. As a result, Club Libby Lu was no longer an expense most parents were willing to afford. In 2009, all 98 store locations closed permanently.

Over a decade after Club Libby Lu's closing, it's difficult to imagine the concept ever soaring to the same heights of popularity today. The hyper-focus on appearance, the exclusion of boys and nonbinary kids, and the expectation of participation from girls who didn't fit the stereotypical image of femininity all elicit a bit of ick from the more enlightened parents of the 2020s. Interestingly, today, Clublibbylu.com is still active. However, there is nothing about the site that suggests that it is owned by or affiliated with the original founder or Saks, Inc. While the company's Instagram bio mentions "bringing back the original Club Libby Lu," it appears to focus on selling kids' backpacks and bedroom décor and not on transforming them into socialites for a day.