Well-made umbrellas are beautiful things in their own right, and I’ve been collecting them for a few years now. Most of mine are from small workshops in Italy, some are from France, and some are vintage. A number are also from Britain, as no country – no matter how skilled their craftsmen – give umbrellas the same kind of heritage. Perhaps it’s because of our image of the ideal English gentleman, with a bowler hat on his head and the crook of an umbrella on his arm. Or perhaps it’s because presidents, royalty, and movie stars have always gotten their umbrellas from here.
Either way, some may be surprised to find out that not all English umbrellas are made in England. Some are in fact made in Italy. Fox Umbrellas, however, have been making theirs on their wet isle for almost 150 years. In fact, if you visit their offices in Surrey today, you can not only see the showroom, but also the workshop where they make their brollies.
The process starts with the stick. If the umbrella is made from a solid piece of wood – such that a single stick forms both the handle and shaft – then a small groove must be cut into the wood so that a metal spring can be inserted. Since each wood is different, and each cut can be a hair off, the springs must be twisted and bent by hand, so that they fit perfectly inside these grooves. If they’re just a millimeter off, they’ll rub against the side of the wood and wear the shaft down from the inside.
Once the spring is inserted, and gives that perfect “ring” when it’s depressed and released, then it’s used to hold the metal runner that goes up and down the shaft. Next, the spindly ribs and protective cover go on the other end, and the two are sewn together by hand in order to ensure secure attachment.
The process of making a handcrafted umbrella in Britain isn’t too dissimilar to the processes used in Italy or France. The difference is mainly in the heritage. British luxury goods have long been known to be artful and beautiful, but also highly durable. Think of bridle leather goods from companies such as Ettinger, or the sturdy tweeds woven in the Outer Hebrides. A good British umbrella carries the same heritage, and at Fox, you know that British-ness is not just in name, but also in make.