Bespoke umbrellas are the kind of thing you get when you already own ~25 bespoke suits (all in seasonal fabrics, of course). You don’t really need another custom suit made. Plus, you’re kind of tired of going to Naples and London. However, your wife Marcella still wants to go on vacation, so you take her to Milan, and along the way, you think “what the hell, I’ll get a bespoke umbrella.”
Lucky for you, one of the world’s remaining three custom umbrella makers is located in Milan — Francesco Maglia. The company was started by its namesake, Francesco Maglia, who started to work at an umbrella company in Montichiari at the tender age of 14. By 1854, he became a partner in the company, and two years later, he moved to Pavia and then subsequently Milan, where he started his own umbrella company. The company has been passed down through the ages and is now managed by the fifth generation Francesco Maglia.
Until just a few years ago, Maglia produced umbrellas exclusively for labels such as Hermes, Prada, Bottega Veneta, and Tom Ford. These days, Maglia produces under his own label. Some of the umbrellas are sold off the rack at high-end haberdasheries such as Shrine (which The Bengal Stripe wrote about), while others are bespoke commissions made to a single customer’s specifications.
To commission a bespoke job, a customer begins by selecting the wood that will be used for both the stick and the handle. There are so many options available that this can feel like picking the fabric for a bespoke sport coat. Customers can choose walnut, hickory, beech, cedar, oak, rosewood, apple tree, elm, ash tree, red chestnut (with or without rind), cherry wood, wild cherry wood, ebony, hazelnut tree, bamboo, and sugar cane. The process of getting both the stick and the handle to form out of a single piece of a wood is so laborious (involving steam, skill, and time) that it can take about six months to get it to the right shape. The result is a piece of wood that is both flexible and sturdy, and contains no breaks or cuts.
If the customer likes a bit more detailing, the handle can be braided with leather or some kind of exotic material. Calf leather is the most common, but Maglia can also use crocodile leather, horn, and even tortoiseshell.
Along with the stick and handle, the core of the umbrella involves a cylindrical slider and crown. The cylindrical slider - which is used to open and close the umbrella - is made out of cast iron. The crown - which is used to keep the spoke together - is made out of brass. Francesco Maglia mills both of these pieces in-house in order to control quality and variation for each of these commissions.
Then there is the canopy itself. The company used to use a special shantung silk (otherwise known as raw silk) for their canopies. However, since the demand for luxury umbrellas has plummeted, such materials are no longer available. These days, Maglia uses a blend of cotton, silk, and wool. Teflon is applied in order to waterproof the fabric, and a little bit of extra fabric is hand sewn into the pockets that grip the canopy to the spokes in order to make them sturdier. Any fabric pattern can be chosen - solid, regimental, tartan, pin dots, etc. It’s bespoke, so really the customer’s imagination is the only limit. Once the fabric is chosen, it is cut into trapezoids, ironed, and then sewn together.
Lastly, as with most custom jobs, anything is possible if the customer is willing to pay for it. For example, Maglia is able to construct the stick out of two pieces and have them attached to each other with screws. This allows the customer to carry a bigger umbrella for when it’s raining, but deconstruct it into a smaller size for traveling.
The cost of all this, as you can imagine, can be quite high, running north of ~$700. His off the rack pieces are more affordable, but typically still run between $100 and $300. Should you want to splurge this rainy season, however, you can find Francesco Maglia umbrellas at Shrine and Rain or Shine. If you’re lucky enough to be able to commission a bespoke order, you can contact the company through their website or give them a call. Francesco speaks Italian, French, Spanish, German, and English, so you should be able to communicate with him easily.
Lastly, the Gentleman’s Gazette wrote an interesting article about Francesco Maglia and took a bunch of great pictures. Check it out.
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