Details: Francesco Maglia Umbrellas

Umbrella makers are sadly few and far between nowadays and only a handful of these rain-repelling artisans remain across the globe. One such workshop is that of Francesco Maglia Ombrelli, based in the southern suburbs of Milan in a place called Vigentino, an up-and-coming district not a million miles from the Fondazione Prada, and well-known to the fashionistas of MFW. Maglia produces over 3,000 umbrellas every year for customers and brands worldwide, and five years ago decided to open its doors to private customers who can visit the factory in person, to purchase a handmade, bespoke umbrella.

The original Francesco Maglia was born into a family of charcoal burners and woodcutters emanating originally from Valganna about 60km to the northwest of Milan. The young Francesco left home for Brescia where he learned the ropes of umbrella making before becoming a partner in another umbrella business in Verolanuova. He then went solo in Pavia and subsequently transferred the workshop to Corso Genova in Milan in 1876, where it remained until 2003. Sons born into the family have traditionally been named Francesco, apart from Giorgio, business partner and father of the current owner, Francesco. The stylish and amiable buzz-cutted 32-year-old with a sparkle in his eye, would spend school holidays in the workshop soaking up all the necessary skills from his forefathers but actually worked at his local golf club straight from university, before a spell in London learning his craft at James Smith & Sons on New Oxford Street. On his return in 2015, he opened a store in affluent Como to better understand the needs of his customers.

While the Maglias have specialised in umbrellas, they have previously dabbled in parasols and straw hats (the manufacture of which ceased in 1923), but they have recently revived their headwear offering with the launch of a new line of waterproof bucket hats. 

Traditional umbrellas feel like they are a product from a bygone era: a time when people had to walk everywhere. It’s wonderful to think that Maglia has made a living out of these contraptions, which are essentially pieces of fabric attached to a collapsible frame of thin ribs radiating from the top of a carrying stick or handle to help shield us from inclement weather – something us Brits dwell upon far too frequently. But they are a far cry from the throwaway brollies touted by street vendors. One thing that really struck me was how much importance the brand places on the quality of its raw materials – it’s a prerequisite that they are 100% natural – and where they are sourced, in order to fashion them into durable, timeless masterpieces.

You don’t create Rolls-Royce umbrellas with Lada parts after all. There are three key manufacturing elements involved, the first of which is the wood: Francesco Maglia’s made-to-order system produces zero waste – any excess fragments are cleverly repurposed into shoehorns. Their wood sourcing is a meticulous process, where they focus mainly on wild trees and instead of simply felling the trees and leaving the roots, the trees are uprooted in their entirety, allowing new life to flourish. All wood is treated with water-based paint – the most environmentally friendly available. The umbrella handles are crafted from a veritable kaleidoscope of the finest species known to man – everything from Italian chestnut, ash and elm; German-grown maple, cherry and oak; hickory from the US, bamboo from Japan; snakewood from South America as well as ebony from Africa – and are all crescent-shaped artforms in themselves.

The next consideration is of course the fabric. Francesco Maglia places durability at the heart of its pledge for sustainability and prides itself on using the most durable fabrics to create long-lasting umbrellas, so good you can pass them on to the next generation. The fabric of choice is primarily polyester – an incredibly resilient fabric that’s ideal to have water-repelling coatings and treatments applied to it. Much like the finest ties in the world, Maglia sources fabric from the shores of nearby Como – they have even specially adapted a tie frame to produce their distinctive dyed and jacquard polyesters. As for the metals, the ribs are cut from a blend of steel and carbon fibre while the fastenings are predominantly crafted from brass due to its high performance and sustainable credentials. 

A bespoke umbrella can take anything from two weeks to five months to craft, for a special request order such as a personalised jacquard fabric.


Lee Osborne is creative director of Secret Trips

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