How Delia's Conquered The '90s

Photo: Courtesy of Delia's.
Even 20 years after its inception, the cult of Delia's is still real. And, with the beloved '90s catalog company shutting down, we've reached peak nostalgia for the era of platform creepers, stackable eye shadow, and Paul Frank T-shirts. But, while we're sad to see Delia's go, we've been loving all the reminiscing going on. Who else remembers the first time you shopped online with your gURLmail account?
For fashion-forward teens across the country, Delia's was a lifeline to a bigger, cooler world — one you could access by begging for your mom's credit card and calling the 1-800 number to rush-deliver body glitter and butterfly camisoles. And, though it seemed like magic back then, it was very much a business, with a very clear strategy that paid off big at the time. Jim Trzaska, a senior photo art director for millennial brands at Macy's, was a 13-year employee of Delia's and is still a die-hard loyalist (he insists on using the alt-capped "dELiA*s" when referring to his former employer). Responsible for running all the photo shoots, Trzaska was the person responsible for stoking your most jealous fashion fantasies back then. We called him up to take a little stroll down memory lane. Cue *tHe meMoRieS.*
Advertisement
What was your role at Delia's?
"I had many roles over the course of my 13 years at dELiA*s, from Merchandise Coordinator to Public Relations Manager to my favorite and longest-held position, Photo Producer. Basically, my job was to cast the models and hire all the crew and talent to work on the catalog photo shoots."
Delia's was known for models being sillier than all the other catalog girls — was that intentional?
"Yes, absolutely. The fictional '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. That naturally set the tone at the photo shoots as well."
Photo: Courtesy of Delia's.
Those goofy faces and poses didn't just happen, did they?
"We worked with a VERY entertaining crew with a lot of personality behind the camera, so that definitely helped. One thing that always got a big reaction from everyone on set was a fake boy named 'Billy' who was invented by our lead stylist, Galadriel Masterson. Depending on what kind of mood we needed from the model, 'Billy' could be anyone from a shady ex-boyfriend to a bratty little brother or a gay best friend. He definitely helped us get the shot on more than one occasion."
What was the go-to soundtrack for shoots?
"Pure pop! In fact, I have a vivid memory of being in the loft at the George Brown Studio in Nolita during one particular shoot listening to the models, photographer, stylists, and buyers all dancing and singing along to J.Lo's 'Waiting For Tonight' as it played at full blast on a repeat loop."
Did you ever see anyone from America's Next Top Model or any other reality shows for a casting?
Oh yeah, there were plenty of Top Model contestants that came in for castings. Of course, I was obsessed with the show myself at the time, so I was really excited to meet Mercedes, who was the runner-up in Cycle 2, as well as Kim Stolz, the short-haired model from Cycle 5 (who went on to be a correspondent on MTV News). Unfortunately none of them made the cut to appear in the actual catalog. Toward the end of my time there, I also met with a couple daughters of Real Housewives. What a lot of people may not know is that several mainstream celebrities modeled for Delia’s before they were stars — such as Miranda Kerr, Brooklyn Decker, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Cassie.
Advertisement
Did the girls have any say about what they wear? Could they make the outfits their own?
"Every once in a while they did, especially in the early days. On those occasions, the stylist would call out "MODEL'S CHOICE!" as she walked to set, and truth be told, those were some of the coolest outfits."
Do you remember the early warehouse sales?
"I definitely remember assisting at one warehouse sale in New Jersey before there were actual Delia's retail stores. It was an absolute feeding frenzy. I was amazed at how many girls dragged their parents out to the middle of nowhere to stand in line and then scramble for whatever clothing they could get their hands on once the doors opened. You would have thought *NSYNC were hiding among the racks the way these girls stormed the building and went wild. I remember seeing one girl just randomly piling sweaters onto her father's outstretched arms until they literally reached above the top of his head. It was so cool."
Photo: Courtesy of Delia's.
Are you enjoying the retro love Delia's is getting?
"Yeah, it's actually been a good excuse to get in touch with some of the old gang and reminisce. It also makes me proud to have been a part of a brand that obviously made a big impact on so many girls during their formative years. We may not have realized it at the time, but now with all the articles and press coming out, it is a kick to read the comments sections and all the tributes and memories people have of Delia's and think 'My friends and I helped create that!'"
Are there any brands today you feel like are as spirited and inspirational as Delia's was?
"We always took pride in the fact that Delia's was JUST for girls, unlike a lot of the other popular teen brands back then, such as Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Aeropostale, etc., which were unisex. With that in mind — even though their aesthetic is worlds apart from Delia's — I think Nasty Gal speaks to their customers on the same level in terms of 'Girl Power' and unity, as well as the importance of defining your own style and making your own fashion rules. I've also seen a few former Delia's models on NastyGal.com and look at it as a graduation of sorts."
Although you’ve moved on, you must have some feelings about the brand ending.
"It's definitely bittersweet. As someone who was on staff from the glory days of the late '90s up to a few years before the end, I lived through several management changes, with each one of course having their own idea of what the brand should be and what direction to take it in. Some concepts worked, others didn't, and I think in the long run, Delia's just fell victim to changing times. The original Delia's customers had obviously grown up and moved on, and teens today definitely don't shop the same way that they did 10 years ago. Personally speaking, I'll always be grateful for the career opportunities I was given and lifelong friends I made at Delia's. In that sense, the spirit of the brand will still live on in our memories and funny stories. And, of course, through all the amazing photographs."
Advertisement