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They've Got Warm and Fuzzy Wrapped Up

July 04, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD

Tracy Ullman wore a kitschy chenille robe on her TV show. So did Ellen DeGeneres on "Ellen," Fran Drescher on "The Nanny" and Jane Leeves, the fetching English maid Daphne on "Frazier."

All of Don and Jody Chapman's designs go for laughs. "People either get them or they don't," he says.

Each time a robe festooned with a fun motif like a coffee mug, watermelon slice or spotted cow appears on screen--at least two dozen times so far--demand jumps. At the Damze Co. factory in Tustin, rows of antique-looking tufting machines hum as workers embroider the chenille, tracing a pattern that has been hand-stamped onto the fabric. The process has changed little since chenille was invented in the early 1900s, Don Chapman says.

To boost production, as many as 500 robes a day, the Chapmans bought a Georgia factory that produced bedspreads and robes in busy florals. "This company was a lone survivor doing chenille products, but they didn't see the potential" of updating their look, Don says.

But the Chapmans thought that baby boomers might like to relive the warm, fuzzy feeling of snuggling against Mom and Dad's bedspread. So in 1991, they showed a robe covered in moons and stars to department store buyers. A few picked it up, and so did the costume designers. Demi Moore will wrap one on in the upcoming "If These Walls Could Talk." The robes sell for $85 to $130 at selected Nordstroms. They can also be mail ordered from Victoria's Secret.

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