Delia's Has Risen From The Dead, Will Make Clothes For Grown-Ups

After filing for bankruptcy last year, the retailer just relaunched as an online-only brand. And as part of the resurrection, it's looking at nostalgic twenty-somethings as a new market.

In case you haven't heard, Delia's — better known as dELiA*s — is back from the dead. And while the brand is focused on winning teens over right now, BuzzFeed News has learned that the teen-focused brand is thinking about offering up sizes that would fit nostalgic twentysomethings next year.

Makes you want to update your away message with joy, right?

Delia's relaunched as an online-only brand last month after filing for bankruptcy in December 2014. Steve Russo, who bought Alloy from Delia's in 2013, purchased the Delia's brand and its intellectual property for $2.5 million in cash earlier this year, struck by the overwhelming sadness that engulfed former '90s youth after the chain's demise.

"It was hard to not buy Delia's when everybody was crying that Delia's was closing," he said in a telephone interview last week. "There's a huge following … when some of these lesser retailers exited — like Wet Seal went through a liquidation or Deb Shops went through liquidation — there wasn't that same message that was communicated through their diehard customers."

Indeed, Delia's has a unique cache among today's twentysomething women — though that might be the wrong word to use, given Caché is yet another hot-in-the-'90s retailer that filed for bankruptcy in the past year.

Russo says he was enticed by the brand's popularity online, where it has 318,000 Instagram followers and more than 700,000 Facebook likes. Hilco, the firm that handled the sale, said in marketing materials earlier this year that the company's website received an average of about 1.5 million visits a month and that its customer database included more than 4.9 million individual records, though only somewhere around 700,000 were active in the prior 12 months.

Delia's main focus right now is connecting with its core customer of 7th- to 10th-graders, who are a little too old for Justice but too young for Forever 21, Russo said. But he said the brand is working on providing sizes that would fit women in their twenties and perhaps even thirties, who have pounded the digital media drum of grief for the brand since Delia's went under.

"We're working on doing a throwback flashback catalog that will probably be done at the beginning of 2016 that brings together the old and the new," Russo said.

"There are certain aspects of the business that are actually being bought by some of the older customers," he said, citing jeans as an example. "We're gonna start to extend that out to be more where the sizing will be a little more fitting to someone slightly older ... there's a nostalgia element to it. And we want to bring back some of the old models. We've already talked to them and met with them, and they're actually consulting with us in some cases."

"We don't want to confuse the customer," he continued. "But we're working on some things that will make it so older customers can get products for themselves as well … we want to make sure we're meeting expectations and then do some really fun things."

Russo said that while he was "a little bit worried" at first, Delia's was hitting its August projections as of last week.

"It's a misnomer that there's no expense in e-commerce because there's no stores ... basically, when you're in the cloud, which is what e-commerce is, you have to kind of go door-to-door, saying come to my site, because nobody sees you, you're not a store on 34th Street," he said. "It's a process, but we started with a very, very loyal base, and we're seeing it in the sales."

Delia's is one of a few retail brands currently attempting a resurrection after a bankruptcy.

Just last month, Xcel brands announced that it bought C. Wonder's trademark and intellectual property for about $12.5 million. C. Wonder, founded by Tory Burch's ex-husband Chris Burch, went belly-up earlier this year after store closures and layoffs weren't enough to keep the company in business. It will launch on QVC this spring.

Frederick's of Hollywood and Coldwater Creek also plan to re-emerge as online brands after bankruptcies, the Wall Street Journal reported in May. And just in the past week, Filene's Basement announced it is coming back to life on the web.

The retail resurrection trend also includes chains that didn't go bankrupt, but otherwise faded out. A brand management company said earlier this summer that it's planning to bring back Limited Too, in a bid to appeal to "millennial moms" who remember the retailer with fondness. (The Limited Too was absorbed into Justice, which remains a popular tween retailer.)

In each case, investors are betting that enough people love the brand to make it a success again without the baggage of costly retail stores and perhaps with the benefit of new suppliers. They're also betting it's a better plan than simply crafting a new brand from scratch.

Delia's, despite an attempted turnaround by former J.Crew and Coach executives, was gasping for air in recent years, posting just $137 million in sales in 2013. At its peak, it brought in $258 million for the year ended Feb. 3, 2007. Before the company filed for bankruptcy protection, it was down to fewer than 100 stores and was even selling some of its $40 frocks and sweaters on Amazon.

Russo said that Delia's will still send out its iconic catalog, but it will contain more "lifestyle articles." The chain may also open physical stores again once it gets a better sense of what the business could be.

"Those names don't come up often so that in and of itself, and immediately being able to reengage with the consumer, we felt was something that made a lot of sense for us, so that's what we did," he said.

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