As the ’90s style revival rages on, the San Francisco-based retailer Dolls Kill has resurrected an institution: Delia’s, the brand that stole a generation of teen girls’ hearts with its spunky, dynamic catalog style. Sorry: dELiA*s, to use the proper nomenclature.
Through a licensing contract, Dolls Kill — which sells eccentric, daring clothing to a set of shoppers that includes goths, ravers, and festivalgoers — is producing a series of limited-edition Delia’s collections, with drops planned for November, January, and March, just in time for Coachella). There are more on the books for 2019. Though Delia’s continued to operate through the ’00s, the Dolls Kill team designed with its mid-’90s heyday in mind.
The collection, which is available online today and in stores tomorrow, is full of rainbow stripes, mesh tops, flower-embellished jeans, chokers, and platform shoes; some pieces, like a yellow-and-blue butterfly sweater, are replicas of items found in the Delia’s catalog, just with modernized silhouettes. Even the product photography has an old-school Delia’s vibe, with the models striking fun poses under a slightly warped, wide-angle lens.
“We’re here to help you to unleash your ‘I don’t give a fuck,’” says Dolls Kill buying director Christina Ferrucci of the brand’s outlook, “and we felt like, in a friendlier way, that’s what Delia’s did in the ’90s.”
Once enormously popular among teenage girls, Delia’s announced in 2014 that it was preparing for bankruptcy and planning to liquidate its assets. The following year, the brand’s intellectual property sold for $2.5 million to a subsidiary of HRSH Acquisitions, which bought Alloy from Delia’s for $3.7 million in 2013.
In recent years, this has become a common story: The so-called “retail apocalypse” that started in 2017 resulted in numerous bankruptcies, including those of giants like Sears and Toys R Us. It’s also familiarized shoppers with the various ways a brand can spring back to life after going under — American Apparel and Nasty Gal both sold their intellectual property during bankruptcy proceedings and were then relaunched under new ownership, for instance.
A licensing contract, like the one Dolls Kill struck with the company that now owns the Delia’s name, offers yet another way to revive a brand. The deal doesn’t have an end date, but considering how perfectly it encapsulates the ’90s trend happening right now — and given that trends inevitably die out — perhaps it’s wiser to enter an arrangement that allows for a graceful exit.
And Delia’s by Dolls Kill has several things going for it. There’s nostalgia: Ferrucci, who’s in her mid-30s, remembers taking the catalog to her hairdresser because she wanted one of the models’ haircuts and circling all the clothes she wanted to get during class. There’s also the fact that ’90s styles like babydoll dresses and mesh tops already sell well with Dolls Kill’s existing customers.
And then there’s the collection’s timing — smack-dab in the middle of a ’90s-everything craze — which makes it applicable to younger shoppers who weren’t around to experience the brand’s original incarnation. Hannah, an 18-year-old model who was reclining on an inflatable plastic chair at the collection’s press preview, said that she hadn’t heard of Delia’s before booking the job.
“I just learned about it, but I’m definitely going to get a lot from it,” she said.