Pasotti: The Handcrafted Umbrella Maker

When I get the chance to use a nice umbrella, I’m sometimes reminded of Jacque Demy’s 1964 masterpiece film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s about a young couple in love – one a 17-year-old girl who works in her mother’s umbrella shop, and the other a 20-year-old mechanic. The girl gets pregnant, the guy gets drafted into the Algerian war, and after too long of a separation, the girl ends up marrying another man. The guy then returns from the war, but is depressed and lonely. If that wasn’t enough to turn off most readers, know that it’s also a French musical. As sappy as the film sounds, it’s actually quite good, and like another French classic, The Red Balloon, it features some really masterful cinematography. The opening scene, for example, shows these really cheerful, colorful umbrellas going in and out of the picture on a dreary, rainy day. It’s probably because of that scene that I’ve long favored colors such as navy and dark green for umbrellas, rather than solid black.

My latest acquisition is from Pasotti, a family-owned and -operated company based out of a small Italian countryside town. The company was started sixty-years ago by the current owner’s grandmother. She came from a poor family and needed a job, so she took up making umbrellas an hour away from her home. A year later, she started her own company, Pasotti, and today, it operates as the “biggest” Italian maker of handcrafted umbrellas. I say that in quotes because the workshop only employs fifteen workers. Not exactly a factory, but larger than, say, the two-man shop Talarico runs out of Naples, and the operation Francesco Maglia runs out of Milan.

The umbrella I received is a black and brown glen check with a single-stick construction. That means that the wood has been curved with the help of steam so that the shaft and handle are one continuous piece, rather than made of two separate parts like on most umbrellas. Not only does this make for a sturdier construction, but I think it’s also more pleasing to the eye. Only certain woods lend themselves to this, however (mine is chestnut). Malacca and whangee, though highly prized, won’t work. The first can’t be bent with steam, and the second has ridges that would prevent the umbrella’s runner from smoothly moving up and down.

My Pasotti compares well to my two Talaricos. Like those, this one is made entirely by hand, with the exception of how the canopy’s panels have been sewn together. That obviously has to be done with a sewing machine, but the cutting of the panels, and the attaching of the ribs, runner, and canopy, are all hand executed. The rosette (the decorative fabric ring covering where the runner meets the shaft) and prevents (the cloth covering where the ribs meet the stretchers) are also handsewn. Finally, the sticks are also sourced from the same place. As far as I understand, there’s only one company in the world that sells these types of curved sticks for umbrellas, so the few remaining handcrafted umbrella makers in the world all buy them from the same supplier. 

There are some minor differences, however. Where my Talarico uses two smoked mother-of-pearl buttons and fabric covered rings to secure the furled canopy, my Pasotti has a metal button snap; and where the ends on my Talaricos have been capped with animal horn, my Pasotti uses hard black plastic. Additionally, the branding on my Talarico has been kept to a small fabric tab hidden underneath the canopy (much like a garment care label), while Pasotti stamps their name on a metal plate set at the handle. These are just differences in trimmings, however, and I’d hesitate to say they’re set in stone. Both are small-scale, artisanal workshops, not mass-market factories. Pasotti has said they can accommodate special requests, and confirmed, for example, that the ends can be capped with animal horn if a customer asks (though this will come with a surcharge). 

Regardless, as I said in a post over the summer, you can’t buy Talarico umbrellas outside of Naples, and they won’t ship. Pasotti, on the other hand, is available in the US through certain stores, such as Burdi in Chicago and Scoop NYC in New York City. Even more excitingly, they’re apparently opening a new e-commerce store in January of 2013, which I believe makes them the first handcrafted umbrella maker in Italy to offer direct service. Prices aren’t too bad either. A fully handcrafted, solid-stick umbrella will run about $190, shipped to the United States. The webstore is still two months away from opening, but you can probably buy something from them now by emailing them. 

(Photos taken from Pasotti and LuxuryTV)

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    A detail we often overlook
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