by Jill Lowe
The stage was set by Michelle Crowe, in this magazine in February 2023 for style in the rain. Because the rain continues, the age-old saying “April Showers Bring May Flowers” still holds true today. Thus we can use a wardrobe of umbrellas, many with important attributes: windproof, collapsible, colorful, waterproof, UV protected, choice of sizes. But just as is said about the best camera being the one you have with you, the same can be said for the umbrella.
To think that this simple circular screen of fabric or plastic, hinging over ribs which today can be collapsed, is the essence or that vital article: the umbrella!
May as well start with a Yayoi Kusama Umbrella!
How can you not be joyful to see the rain with such an umbrella?
Today, umbrellas form a canvas for such diversity of designs, patterns, advertising. We find museums, art galleries, theaters using the umbrella for mementos or advertising. A city may be depicted featuring clever canopies, buildings, or circular staircases. Patterns may be inside the umbrella or out. The shape of the umbrella can vary. Quality varies. The large, stable, windproof “golf” umbrellas, with slits for wind are akin in quality to the furled umbrella for the British Gentleman erstwhile in a bowler, down to the small, risky, footling umbrellas the size of an iPhone.
As an overview of the history of the umbrella and how was it named, I am indebted to Ann Lewis, retired Canberra history teacher who was interviewed by Georgia Stynes on the ABC radio program Afternoons. Her research of past, current and future umbrella information has informed many umbrella aspects highlighted here. It is Ann who talked of umbrellas being invented over 4,000 years ago and used in early civilizations in Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China, with original use as parasols for sun protection. The term umbrella comes from the Latin root word umbra meaning shadow.
For an extended umbrella history, its depiction in literature, customs associated, look no further than
the book Brolliology by Marion Rankine.
This is simply an amazing comprehensive, very readable exposé of so many aspects of the umbrella, from the parasol origin to the waterproof umbrella : the parapluie. It was the Chinese inventing the first waterproof umbrella as protection from rain when they waxed and lacquered their paper parasol. Fashions and style associated with the umbrella, movies depicting umbrellas, poems associated, are all found here in this remarkable book.
Oft referred to in relation to umbrellas, Fortuny indeed advocates protecting oneself from the style police by using their tasteful umbrellas. (oh and as well as protection from the elements!)
Whether splashing through puddles solo or strolling arm-in-arm, the Fortuny umbrella transports you to colorful Venice, it is said.
Or if in Paris – 6th Arrondissement, pop into Madeleine Gély Parapluies, the oldest umbrella shop in Paris
Don’t forget to look up to see umbrellas on roof!
The Foldable Umbrella
Not only are there various claimants for the invention of the “foldable” umbrella, but the terminology itself is varied – the expressions of foldable, collapsible, pocket, compact, telescopic, fold-up mostly refer to it being able to be carried in a small satchel, or indeed a pocket. Further, dates of claims also depend on when patented or when patent sold or relinquished.
A foldable or ‘pocket’ umbrella was developed in Hungary by the Balogh brothers, whose patent appeal was admitted in 1923 by the Royal Notary Public of Szombathely. Their patent would later also be approved in Austria, Germany, Belgium, France, Poland, Great Britain and the United States.
The birth of the “Knirps”
Hans Haupt from Solingen, Germany had been injured in the WW1 and, subsequently, wasn’t able to carry his walking stick and his umbrella at the same time. Thinking about a possibility to put an umbrella into his pocket, he equipped it with a telescopic frame so he could push it together into a handy format. In 1928, he applied his invention for a patent and the “Knirps” eventually became a synonym in the German language for small foldable umbrellas.
The ‘Flirt’ Umbrella
Also, in 1928 in Vienna, a student studying sculpture at the Akademieder Bildenden Kunste Wien (Academy of Fine Arts) named Slawa Horowitz, created a prototype for an upgraded compact foldable umbrella which she patented on 19 September 1929. While foldable umbrellas were known, Slawa’s invention was an improved compact version.
Women inventors were unusual at this time, and worthy of mention. Slawa’s invention was noted in newspapers (Neuigkeits-Welt-Blatt Wien) when it was displayed at the Vienna Spring Fair in the Inventor’s Pavilion in 1931: ‘and the Flirt – magic umbrella of the sculptress – the sculptress Slawa Horowitz, who has invented a magic umbrella that can be folded small enough to put in a bag…’
Slawa’s successful invention was owned by her and produced by the Austrian manufacturers Brüder Wüster for 9 years, until, in 1938, following the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany (the Anschluss) she, her husband Karl Duldig and her baby daughter Eva fled Vienna forever, eventually arriving in Melbourne. In 1939 as a Jewish non-resident she was forced to sell her patent to the firm which had produced it.
The Duldig Studio Melbourne holds her original designs, a number of these prototypes as well as patent documents and letters associated with its sale.
Slawa and Karl Duldig with one of her “magic” umbrellas in Vienna in 1933
Melbourne woman Eva de Jong-Duldig has a special link to the folding umbrella – her mum invented it.
A wide interest in umbrellas in all countries
For instance, a conservation project, in Leeds UK., involves more than 230 umbrellas and parasols being documented and catalogued by students working with curators from Leeds Museums and Galleries. They include a pink silk parasol from the 1850s and a black umbrella with a hand-carved Indian ivory handle. One can follow this website so as to be ready when items are online to view the beautiful umbrellas.
Leeds Museum and Galleries: UK
Umbrellas have uses in religious situations
Roman Catholic’s use an umbrella known as the umbraculum or ombrellino, which is held over the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
In numerous Oriental Orthodox Churches, umbrellas are used liturgically to show respect to an individual (such as a bishop) or a holy object.
In Buddhism as a sign of respect, an ornamented parasol is escorted over relics and statues of Buddha and scriptures of the Buddhist doctrine.
Visitors don’t forget the trainee Buddhist monks in Laos as they walk in the streets of Luang Prabang
Umbrellas and Theft
William Sangster, author of Umbrellas and their History, talks of “the frightful morality that exists with regard to umbrellas”. The casual taking of other people’s umbrellas demonstrates an interesting moral relativism which can be summed up in this ditty mentioned by Sangster.
The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fella,
But mostly on the just because
The unjust stole the just’s umbrella.
Some people who would never dream of stealing other items have no such qualms when considering “borrowing” an umbrella.
A hairdressing salon I once frequented repeatedly had customer’s umbrellas stolen whereas the same salon (not as frequently to be sure) reported incidences of return of diamond rings left in ladies lounge. The simple fact is that for some people to be caught in rain is an emergency.
Some beautiful umbrellas
Everybody’s wish- raining dollars!
George Blakemore’s painted umbrellas at Green City Market, Chicago
Pet umbrella and leash combination
Some particular umbrellas and some for the future
An inverted umbrella is a type of umbrella that is designed to open in reverse. This allows the user to stay dry while getting in and out of a car, or walking through doorways and other tight spaces.
The polite umbrella
Is this an improved shape?
A new shape: the Senz Umbrella
What’s the best kind of umbrella?
SENZ° will say:
ONE THAT DOESN’T BLOW INSIDE OUT. ONE THAT PROTECTS YOU FOR YEARS.
With a Senz° windproof umbrella, you can go outdoors in any storm or weather. Your Senz° can brave storms of up to 100 km per hour. Thanks to its unique shape, your Senz° will float through the wind while you hold it firmly in just one hand. Umbrellas that get blown inside out, wet clothing and a hairdo that’s been ruined by the wind are things you don’t have to put up with any more.
What about the Davek umbrella?
They say they make a strong, resilient umbrella that will last for years.
Davek umbrellas are built to weather the toughest storms.
Power and grace, all in a single package. Davek’s best-in-class umbrellas combine uniquely strong umbrella frames with pure aesthetic beauty.
For each minute of the day, 1 billion tonnes of rain fall on earth
Our Blunt™ tip means that one cannot get poked in the eye.
The patented Blunt™ tips open like miniature umbrellas within custom pockets at the canopy edge, performing multiple purposes to make the Blunt™ Umbrella what it is. They transfer the radial force evenly into the canopy ,creating a superior structure and aerodynamic surface for ultimate performance. The Blunt™ tips reinforce the umbrella in a traditional area of weakness by eliminating the point loading at the rib end where umbrellas typically fail.
The Beautiful Blunt umbrellas have a very wide range of colors and editions. Built to last
The Drone Umbrella
Yes, this is available now but are you brave enough to try?
But perhaps you are ready for the texting phonebrella by YankoDesign
The more distant future
The Dyson Airblow 2050 is a prospective umbrella using only air to protect users from rain.
I mean there is NO fabric! So far the motor is quite loud.
In various cities umbrellas are used in sculptures
In our city 2 prominent sculptures can be seen. You can see one on the AMA Plaza outside the Langham Hotel.
The Gentlemen Statues were created by Ju Ming and installed in 2015 in the AMA Plaza. The sculpture is blocky and minimalist, Ming’s signature style, reducing the figures to their basic forms.
A favourite is the Seward Johnson sculpture outside the Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago
The story of the umbrella doesn’t end here! As described, materials are continually evolving to create more resistance and comfort. This has paved the way for the development of new models such as the pocket-sized umbrella, golf umbrella, transparent umbrella, walking-stick umbrella, inverted umbrella and many more.
The umbrella has become both a practical object and a key fashion accessory in today’s society
Notes and Links:
Photo of Jill : Joe Mazza Bravelux inc.
Photos copyright © 2023 Jill Lowe. All rights reserved
Images with Shutterstock license
Madeleine Gély Parapluies
218 boulevard Saint-Germain