Was there anything more exciting than getting your dELiA*s catalog and carefully flipping through each page to find the perfect outfit?
The hottest catalog of the 90s, dELiA*s sent out over 55 million copies each year across the United States. It wasn’t until 2014 that the 90s clothing company filed for bankruptcy, 20 years after it first debuted.
In honor of the most fashionable catalog in history, here are some facts about dELiA*s you may not have known.
1. The Opposite Sex
Despite being notoriously good at picking out women’s fashion trends, dELiA*s was founded by two male Yale graduates, Stephen Kahn and Christopher Edgar.
“I was interested in being more creative,” Kahn said in 1998. “And I wanted to make a lot of money.”
Kahn provided $100,000 of his own money, while his father provided another $100,000.
2. Roving Markets
When dELiA*s first started out, they were marketing their styles towards college-aged women. Business wasn’t booming, so Kahn took out ads for the catalog in a few magazines to see what worked. That’s when their niche started to become apparent.
“We got a huge response from high school kids,” Kahn said. “So basically the market found us.”
The customer based expanded to include 10 to 24-year-olds, hoping to give girls who live in smaller towns the opportunity to get big-city looks.
“We felt that this group was not well served,” Edgar said in 1997. “There wasn’t a recognition of these kids as real consumers.”
Selling the catalog to investors proved to be a little difficult, so CFO Evan Guillemin used an interesting tactic. He told investors that their magazine was like MTV.
“We told them to think of us as a ‘channel’ through which you can program different types of apparel brands,”Guillemin said. “We, like MTV, stay constant … but we’ll provide them with a constantly changing assortment of designs and brands.”
Clearly, it worked.
4. Quit Your Day Job
Charlene Benson, the creative director for dELiA*s, also worked as the art director of Mademoiselle magazine as her day job. She produced dELiA*s at nights before moving over full-time.
“I did all of the things that I didn’t get to do at Mademoiselle—choose the pictures where the girls were making faces, and have kind of more chaotic layouts, and just have a certain kind of fun and a certain kind of real girl-ness that I always missed working at a Condé Nast fashion magazine,” she said.
5. The Name Game
The name dELiA*s has always been a source of great mystery, with no one really knowing where it came from. But, according to photo producer Jim Trzaska, Delia was a fictional girl they looked to for inspiration.
“[Delia] was supposed to be a girl’s girl who loved hanging out with her friends above all else, and dressed for herself rather than to attract boys,” he said. “That naturally set the tone at the photo shoots as well.”
As for the unconventional style of the headline, it came naturally.
“We really liked that mixed up and down type,” Benson says. “Sassy had kind of done something like that [before dELiA*s] and we really liked it. But because I was such a bad typist a lot of times my typing would kind of look like that, so it was like, ‘This feels right.’”
6. Keep It Light
Photo shoots can be long and tiring, so dELiA*s wanted to make sure their models were always having a good time. After all, they were just kids.
“Sometimes I would ask them, ‘Do you want to be an actress someday?’ The actual shoots were super fun,” Benson revealed. “We just had the funniest crew, and the stylist that we worked with consistently, Galadriel Masterson, was just really, really funny and she had this way of teaching the girls how to be on set and how to express themselves. She had a really good idea for how to put the stuff together because we weren’t match-y and we weren’t outfit-y. We just shot a lot of film until we got the funny pictures we wanted.”
7. Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery
Because of dELiA*s extreme success, many people tried to duplicate their business model. “Magalogs” like Zoe, Wet Seal, moXiegirl, and Just Nikki all tried to recreate the success of dELiA*s, but it didn’t work out. Kahn wasn’t threatened at all by the copycats.
“There will be a shakeout on the imitator side,” he said. “Most of these guys will lose a lot of money for a long time.”
8. Brick and Mortar
dELiA*s began opening brick and mortar stores in 1999, but it wasn’t easy to recreate their catalog feel.
“The tricky part was like ‘OK, we have this thing, it looks like this and feels like this in print. How do we bring what’s happening here into the stores?’” Benson said. “We didn’t want to lose what we had. From a design standpoint and a building creative team standpoint, it was super fun—I haven’t been in a store development process that was so collaborative since. It was quite wonderful.”
9. For The Boys
Remember Droog? Not many people do. It was launched in 1998 and tailored to boys of the same age group. According to Kahn, Droog was a “natural progression from dELiA*s” that featured “streetwear, workwear, and urban and athletic lines.” It didn’t last long at all, and folded in 2000.