Canyon Group. Chenille Robes. Of course, right? That’s the likely association you’re making when you hear this manufacturer’s name, as most people will associate Canyon Group / Damze with the infamous 1990’s TV sitcom, The Nanny. Anyone who has even a slight interest in or fondness for chenille as a fashion has likely heard of Canyon Group, so we wanted to find out the history of this American chenille manufacturer as part of our blog series on chenille manufacturers.
We were in luck – information is easy to find because Canyon is alive and well – and still making the whimsical robes they became so well-known for. They were not one of the “original” manufacturers of chenille (i.e. from the earlier part of the 20th century), but the early history in particular of how the brand began is really quite interesting and very worth discussing.
To start, we consulted our go-to reference on chenille fashions (and in our opinion the very best that’s out there today) – a book called Southern Tufts masterfully written by Ashley Callahan. So little useful information is available on vintage chenille – especially the role it played in fashion. That’s why it goes without saying if chenille and/or vintage fashion interests you in the least, we cannot recommend this wonderful resource enough.
We’ve had more Canyon pieces pass through our hands than we care to remember – all the photographs featured are from our own personal collection. We love history around here, and this post was a delight to research because information was so readily available – a stark contrast to what we encountered researching some of the early vintage chenille bedspread manufacturers.
Did you know that Canyon Group also produced chenille bedspreads and other chenille products?
Indeed, it’s true – pillows, bedspreads, bears, and more.
Comparing Canyon Group’s chenille (or any more modern chenille made of a 50/50 fabric blend) with the “original” vintage chenille bedspreads is like comparing apples to oranges – earlier manufacturers often used 100% cotton in their designs (the major exception being Morgan Jones); most newer chenille is a blend, making the texture, weight, and appearance very much different.
Some people find cotton blends to be the perfect weight with just the right amount of softness; others criticize it for being too thin, light, or “cheap” feeling in comparison with older, cotton chenille from the heyday of manufacturing. We say: it’s a matter of preference.
Next to The Nanny wedding cake style robes, I’m betting you recall the celestial moon and stars motif…
I’ve most commonly had Canyon Group chenille bedspreads in two of their most well-known patterns – the “Moon & Stars” motif, often featuring a slumbering crescent moon nestled amongst the stars – and the pattern everyone loves – the frosted creamy white wedding cake design Fran Drescher made so popular in her hit TV show back in the day.
My daughter “had to” have a matching moon and stars bedspread when she was growing up that was a companion to her kimono robe with the same pattern pictured at left. Obviously, these types of chenille spreads differ both visually from a design perspective and in terms of texture compared to “originals” from many decades earlier.
We were confused by the whole Canyon Group / Damze name, too.
We hear this a lot: “What does ‘Damze’ mean on the labels?” For a long time, we wondered the same thing! (And maybe more importantly, how do you even say “Damze”?!) According to Southern Tufts author Ashley Callahan, it’s actually pretty simple:
Back in 1980, a creative woman named Debra Maria Zomparelli was crafting jackets out of true vintage chenille bedspreads, but as all of us who are familiar with vintage chenille know, sometimes the materials she was using were unsuitable for garment construction.
From a business perspective, it’s easy to see how impractical it would be for any profit-driven company to use decades-old textiles in the manufacture of goods. But for this enterprising young woman, a solution was on the horizon.
She and her dad Rocco instead started buying new chenille spreads from a Georgia company called Soft Goods. Eventually, “DMZ” (pulled from Debra’s initials) was formed.
In 1989, the original owners sold out to Jody and Don Chapman, who at that time updated the name to “Damze.” (If you’ve always wondered how it’s pronounced, it sounds just like the word “dames”.)
To your upper left is a label photographed on one of the many “wedding cake” style robes we have in our collection. You’ll note this tag still bears the “By Damze Co.” wording. You can easily differentiate these older tags with newer ones, which we’ve found often bear the website address of the current Canyon Group company (shown right). Of course, most companies did not have websites in the earlier days when the label pictured here was produced. So that’s one way to help date your piece if you’re unsure.
With the purchase of Soft Goods, fluffy new heights of chenille were reached.
Initially the new owners followed in Debra’s footsteps, crafting chenille jackets from spreads sourced from Soft Goods and selling to quality retailers such as Neiman Marcus. By 1991, the Chapman’s also purchased Soft Goods, which allowed them far more leverage over the entire production process.
This apparently inspired them to eventually create the snuggly robes Canyon Group became so well-known for. Here’s an interesting historical detail that many people might not realize: According to Callahan, some early Damze chenille robes that were sold in stores from Victoria’s Secret to Nordstrom did not bear the Damze branded label (only the store’s brand label).
That could explain why sometimes you’ll spot a robe from “Victoria’s Secret” for instance with the same or similar moon and stars motif that the branded Canyon Group ones had. One memorable piece that my sister had was a gorgeous old bed jacket a while back that looked identical to the Canyon wedding cake pattern in rich jewel tone colors set on cream, with a branded label that we did not recognize. Another interesting mention – my niece had an identical “moon and stars” motif spread to my daughter’s back in the day, but hers had a Victoria’s Secret tag.
The company was once more sold in 2006, and Canyon Group robes are still made today here in the USA. I can almost guarantee you’ve seen their garments on film or even your favorite TV show. So, if you love the zany, whimsical look made so popular during the chenille resurgence of the 1990s (and adored by countless celebs then!), you can still treat yourself to a fun robe if one strikes your fancy.
Here’s what I think Canyon did – and did really well:
By the time they hit the fashion scene, chenille had long fallen out of popular fashion. What was once the epitome of Hollywood Glamour became more associated with comedies sarcastically depicting a frazzled housewife in a dingy, worn out chenille robe with curlers in her hair rambling on about her favorite soap opera and drinking coffee all day.
But when people started to see Canyon’s unique, standout designs, I think Canyon did something few companies are successful at: they transformed the public’s current image of a product from something that was, well, tired and frumpy – into something that was nostalgic and at the same time, fresh, fun and perhaps most important – memorable. As any businessperson or marketing professional knows – that’s no easy feat.
They may have remained true to chenille’s roots, manufacturing their chenille products right here in the USA (which is something few companies can boast anymore). Yet, they effectively brought a fresh, modern look for a whole new generation to enjoy – as many did.
We’ll Leave You with a Quote from a (Modern) Chenille Legend…
Here’s an inspirational excerpt courtesy of this old LA Times article from 1996, complete with a quote from former Canyon owner Don Chapman who, along with his wife Jody, is truly a legend. They didn’t just give an old classic a fresh twist – they saw potential where few did.
For myself and other collectors, we all reminiscence about the “chenille resurgence” back in the 1990s, and to my mind, the Chapmans played a key role in that. Without their tireless work to innovate and create, chenille as a fashion might truly have become a long-lost art:
“To boost production, the Chapmans bought a factory in Georgia that was making old-fashioned chenille bedspreads and robes.
‘It was an industry that died. In the ’40s, everyone had chenille bedspreads and robes. This company was a lone survivor doing chenille products, but they didn’t see the potential,” Don says.'”
There you have it. It doesn’t get more motivational than that – the greatest leaders and innovators in our world know that when you can truly see the potential in something – no matter how slight – your whole perspective changes, in business and in life. Try it sometime – you might surprise yourself with the results.
If you need to know the ins and outs of buying a vintage chenille robe, explore this article where we do our best answer all your questions.