One need hardly go outside anymore to live life; almost everything can be enjoyed in the comfort of one’s home. Want to see a movie? Stream it. Need a TV? Have one de- livered, or any appliance for that matter, alongside your weekly groceries, a hot din- ner and a delectable sangiovese. FedEx is probably dropping off weed at the neighbor’s anyway, and your address is en route.
Without passing judgements — best to leave that to the his- tory books — modern life and its conveniences have rendered certain things a bit romantic, if not downright anachronistic. Pocket watches, a relic of period miniseries, usually require a vest, which are themselves one button away from being moth- balled. Wearables and climate control have gotten so ingrained in our lifestyles that in less than a century, let alone an ice age, what was once a sensible implement becomes a quaint fossil, and they are almost as difficult to find.
And yet, there are a few antiquated tools that remain sensi- ble to have precisely because they never truly became obsolete. Technological advancements have found a way to avoid most old world nuisances, but not all of said tools still remain. The umbrella is one of these. Now, if you have the luxury — or the sentence — of conducting all busi- ness and pleasure from home, this may not concern you. It may rain so little where you live that you’d swear an umbrella is silly and impractical. But even the most up-to-date weather app is often wrong, sooner or later you will be caught in a downpour, and it will be precisely at that moment when you curse yourself and wish you had an umbrella.
If you enjoy well-made thIngs — and if you are read-
ing this magazine, you likely are — buy yourself a nice um- brella and save the cheap one for that one friend that never comes prepared. Chances are he will probably lose it, and it won’t cost you much to get another one for the next time in- evitably he needs it. For a good umbrella — one that is made from a single stick with steel ribs — there are only a handful to choose from, one of which you can find in Milan, Francesco Maglia.
Step inside, and turning left, you will come to a rack of sticks of various woods of differing lengths and provenance, from smooth and polished American hickory to porous and segmented Japanese bamboo. I chose a stick from the ginestra tree, sourced from Sicily, where my great-grandfather was born, thinking of him as I held it in my hand. Walk a little fur- ther, and you’ll find a wall of fabrics, mostly polyester and lined with Teflon, from which you can select for the canopy. Plain, striped, checked, and some that are little more fun, with re- peating patterns and colors that are reversed from one side to the other. I picked a vintage bolt in a navy blue with a muted yellow and green stripe, because sometimes you need a little flash to brighten up an otherwise dreary rainy day. You then choose your hardware: steel in grey or black, or brass; the lat- ter of which I selected.
The frame is attached next, followed by the canopy, which be- ing done completely by hand is the most labor-intensive pro- cess, taking about two hours. Scrap pieces of fabric are utilized to cover moving parts and hinges to prevent friction between wood, metal, and canopy. Finally, the umbrella is steamed to remove wrinkles and set aside to dry for a day or two before be- ing shipped to its final destination, where hopefully it’ll never be loaned to a forgetful friend.
Yes, it’s a bit out of the way, unless you happen to be in Mi- lan, and even then, it’s neither in the city center nor near any train station, but like most valuable things, the effort spent
is well rewarded. Of course, you can order one online, but do yourself a favor and make the trip the next time you’re in Mi- lan, because it is only in the workshop where you can see how the umbrellas have been made since the first Maglia made um- brellas in 1854, before Italy became Italy.
Besides, it’s only there that Francesco will tell you how the sticks are bent. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.
After chalkIng and cuttIng the fabrIc into panels, they are then sewn together by an operator on a specialized ma- chine while the stick is prepped, carefully looking for a clean spot between the knots and burls to slice notches for the catch and release hardware. These have to be hammered in at just the right angle, or one risks throwing away the entire stick.