Francesco Maglia umbrellas: Past, present and future

Wednesday, October 14th 2020
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Francesco Maglia makes some of the finest umbrellas in the world. Indeed, it might make most of the fine umbrellas, given how many it makes for other brands as well as for itself. 

Yet (as is often the way with luxury menswear) the workshop is pretty anonymous. Located on a side street in the Milanese suburbs, in a basement with a short car ramp leading down to the entrance. 

There is no name on the door, merely an umbrella poster. Inside, more posters decorate one wall, showing adverts that umbrella companies have used over the years. A good number of them seem to think posing a scantily clad woman with the umbrella is the best way to get attention. 

Turn left, and you’re into the workshop proper: a central section with finished umbrellas waiting to be shipped, and three workshops leading off it - one for the mechanical side of production, one for cutting fabric, and one sewing that fabric onto the frame. 

There is also a small showroom at the back, and this contains perhaps the most extraordinary object in the place: a huge, red iron safe.

This safe was the only thing that survived when the previous factory was bombed in 1942. Everything else was destroyed, and as a result there are few documents charting the history of the company - which goes back to 1854.

One exception is the document shown below: a letter that was found by a small Genoa stockist a few years ago. It was apparently sent in 1863, and expresses surprise that they ever stopped selling Maglia - a mistake they want to correct immediately. 

Maglia was in the same location, too, from 1876 to 2003, in central Milan. It was only the growth of the city, and parking restrictions that made shipping and commuting increasingly difficult, that forced the move to the current location. 

There is always one Francesco in each generation of the Maglia family, which can make things a little confusing. While the company was founded by one Francesco, the best-known is probably the Francesco featured here with me back 2013, who has been the face of the company for many years. 

Now that Francesco has left the company (last year), it is his brother Giorgio and nephew, another Francesco (below) who runs the company. 

This handover is significant, because it signals a shift for Maglia to being more customer-facing. They recently opened up the workshop to anyone that wants to place a bespoke order, and just a few months ago launched their own e-commerce

This change was probably inevitable, and indeed Maglia is a laggard compared to manufacturers we’ve covered over the years, all of whom have transitioned to doing their own retail. Drake’s has gone furthest, but the likes of Bresciani, Johnstons, Paolo Scafora and Private White VC have all followed the same route. 

“Today, it’s probably the only way to survive,” says Francesco (the younger). “It’s a different way to do business from how we’ve operated historically, but so many of our customers have gone out of business that it’s the only option.”

That has been accelerated by the pandemic: Barney’s was a Maglia customer, as were many department stores and smaller multi-brand stores around the world. 

“Hopefully, by giving customers this direct access to our product and by inviting them into the workshop, we will be able to re-make those connections that have been lost by the issues with the stores,” says Francesco. 

I’m sure Permanent Style readers will be able to help there. There’s nothing like connecting directing to a storied, finest-quality manufacturer - and helping preserve a craft in the process.

As an example of how much Maglia stands alone, it used to source the ribs of its umbrellas from an Italian factory, where it had been a customer for 120 years. 

In 1991, that maker - the last in Europe - finally had to close. Maglia was the only client left and their orders couldn’t justify new investment required in machinery.

“When they shut, they gave us the technical patterns for all their parts, and helped us find a supplier in China,” says Francesco. “They wanted to see us carry on.”

Francesco is remarkably open about things like where parts are sourced from, the costs, and the challenges of running the business. The biggest of these is probably the umbrella market itself, which is split into a sea of cheap umbrellas at one end, and a handful of makers at the other. There is no middle ground.

This makes finding suppliers tricky, but also forces him to explain repeatedly why an umbrella can cost over €200 - and solid-stick ones €400. "People are so used to umbrellas being a disposable item. But that has to be an irresponsible way to consume these days," he says. 

Apparently, umbrella canopies also frequently broke in the past, but only because they were made of silk. Every year or so you had your umbrella re-covered: the same people that did upholstery also replaced canopies. 

We started talking about this because, part way through my visit, a gentleman came in asking to have his old, silk umbrella repaired. It’s something Maglia still offers, even though they rarely use silk themselves.

Responsible consuming is something Francesco is very big on. He now says every part of a Maglia umbrella is recyclable: “If you’re going to make the case that someone should invest in an umbrella, look after it and so consume less, I think it should also be something that can be broken down and re-used at the end of its life.”

That isn’t the case with the cheap Chinese imports, of course, which retail on the streets of Milan for €5 each. “Those come into Italy at a cost of €1 per umbrella,” says Francesco. “Just think what the cost of the parts must be - one piece of hardware on our umbrellas costs more than a euro.”

I’ll go into detail on how the Maglia umbrellas are made in a separate article.

The production is certainly as good if not better than other Italian makers, such as Talarico. And it compares well with French artisans like Michel Heurtault - the only difference being little hand touches on things like the fastenings. 

www.francescomaglia.it

Below: Francesco's Weimaraner, Fufu.

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David

One of the more curious things I have witnessed while living in Japan is the amount of umbrella repair shops they have available. The large chain of miscellaneous-goods shops, known as Tokyu Hands, have umbrella repair services available on site. Sadly, most people are using convenience store-bought, plastic ones, but I do see older residents carrying traditionally crafted stick umbrellas. Anyway, thank you for the article. I may not be able to afford 400 pounds on an umbrella, but maybe some day. // By the way, do you know if Maglia also makes parasols?

Dan Flores

Hi Simon,
Hope all is well! On the subject of Maglia, I purchased a a beautiful green/brown paisley umbrella at a Paul Stuart sale in the last year or so. I’m a sucker for a well-crafted umbrella and this one was unique in that it was a solid wood shaft with all of the inner spindles reinforced/covered in hollow bamboo. I posted a few images on IG at some point and F. Maglia claimed it as one of their own. I’m not sure if the bamboo actually reinforces the frame but it certainly adds to the heft of the umbrella. A work of art, to be sure, but it does take some getting used to managing that weight in one hand when out and about! Best,
Dan Flores

Paul

ive looked quite a lot at japanese umbrellas and their makers, and there are plenty of makers of interest (kamiya shoten, maehara, ramuda, ichihara, eikichi, white rose, yougasa fukui ) that typically make it impossible to buy their products from abroad.

as with makers in other countries – i find no clear exception in any maker, anywhere – there’s a very frequent failure to explain the qualities of the product, and justify the pricing. they also don’t explain how their canopy sizes and stick lengths will deal with people’s heights and make them usable elsewhere either – japan likely has shorter sticks, but wide enough canopies somewhere?!; the british tradition of walking length, which in itself isn’t that widely stuck to with the remaining makers here in the UK (brigg, ince, fox, smith, lockwood etc) would be useful, but it’s evolved in various ways in different countries and tantilising findable if you google around hard enough, with even english options to tempt you a little more, without it being widespread, complete, usable.

maglia hints at the issue of explaining the value in the item, but their website’s UX / functionality is patchy and could cover such issues itself, very quickly and easily. the issue of customisation is far from difficult with a decent website producer, too, and would increase their business no end if buy from them didn’t actually involved old PDF file downloads and broken english messages to push for a chance to spend your money on them; my experience was something that took a couple of months to get just one dead stock umbrella at a reduced price from them.

maglia is a great maker of umbrellas, but such hard work to turn an idea or wish into a solid purchase. they’re not alone in having a disappointing, unusable and frustrating website – i’ve yet to find one, just ONE, anywhere in the world, which covers all the bases effectively enough that you don’t have to email them to ask about options, prices, shipping, the product itself. just ONE.

please, umbrella makers of the world, tell us what we could buy and make it possible to buy it! plenty of us would spend huge sums on the things, but i can’t get one maker to be entirely upfront about what they can do and how much it is to do it.

CoMC

I believe that Geneva is spelled Ginevra in Italy

My guess is the letter dating back to 1863 is from Genova in Italy, also don’t think Maglia exported much in those days

Cheers
CoMC

Stuart

Always impressive to see an artisanal company that pre-dates the country in which they are based.

Larry

How about Ed Meier? Founded in Munich in 1596.

Stephen Thompson

Nice dog.

Shoddy

How would the quality of these umbrellas compare with traditional English firms like Swaine Adeney Brigg and James Smith? (incidentaly I don’t know whethe they actually manufacture their own umbrellas and if so where they do it)

SC

I think Brigg still makes their own…I rarely use my solid stick chestnut, only during walks where I do not have to go into some establishment like restaurants where I have to place it in a bin at the door…I fear it would go missing by the time I go to retrieve it. I’ve had my eye on a talarico whangee one though it may also not get used much…

Fred

Thank you Simon.
How do you find they compare with James Smith and Son?

Chancellor

In the seventh paragraph, you comment on a document “shown above”, but the photo is actually a couple of paragraphs below.

My biggest fear of buying a quality umbrella like this is how high winds destroy umbrellas. Would be curious if quality umbrellas like these are able to withstand that kind of weather. Perhaps something you may want to comment on in your next article about the making of the umbrellas themselves.

Anonymous

I’ve bought two umbrellas from Drakes – not in this price bracket, but more expensive than your average umbrella. I’ve had them for several years now and have used them extensively in all sorts of weather, including very strong winds. Haven’t had any issues with them breaking, for what that’s worth.

James

I bought an umbrella from Drake’s a few years ago and I was told it was made by Francesco Maglia.

REUVEN L LAX

I use a Talarico umbrella (different Italian manufacturer, but I believe similar construction). I’ve taken it through plenty a high wind with nary a problem. The downside is that these solid-stick umbrellas are much heavier than plastic umbrellas, so it might take a bit of time to get used to carrying them.

Burt

You can use your solid stick umbrella as a walking stick = you move a little faster. It won’t feel heavy. And as long as it’s dry, you’ll have a 3rd leg 🙂

REUVEN L LAX

That slightly defeats the purpose of protecting against the rain, doesn’t it?

Anonymous

I think I saw Anderson & Sheppard post something about your new book on their IG story. It’s since been taken down so I guess they jumped the gun a bit?

Felix

I would very much like to support them, but I stole a solid stick Maglia umbrella from my parents when moving out 15 years ago, which at the time must have been already 10 years old, have had it in my car ever since and have used it regularly, and the thing is still beautiful and apparently indestructible. So I just hope they are still around when in 2040 I (maybe) need a new one. Definitely no planned obsolescence going on here.

Felix

In principle yes, probably, but also that good stuff can take the occasional abuse. And of course you need to be realistic about the actual use of a nice umbrella – I only use it for walks, but not really to get somewhere in town (because then I’m in a car, or on a bike, or can hide somewhere where I don’t get wet if necessary). I fact walking around with a walking stick like umbrella in town makes me feel a little self conscious as a young(ish) man. So not that many opportunities to lose it really. But still, really great product.

Richard

I came across Francesco Maglia about 18-months ago and they are fine umbrellas. I seriously considered a purchase, but my go to is a £30 folding umbrella which I have had for 7-years. Its getting plenty of use in London this autumn. I have had £300-£400 James Smith ones, but I think twice to use on a windswept day or sadly leave at any cloakroom from experience.

Stéphane Butticé

A great and “really” craftmaship manufacture and a good friend !

Bravo Simone !

Stéphane Butticé

C. Hill

Simon, could you do an article or sum up about white label companies. I’m very interested in that.

C. Hill

Yes, I do. You did mention Bresciani, Johnstons, Paolo Scafora and Private White VC in this article. I’m wondering what companies you would recommend for specific items of clothing and accessories. I loved the articles you did about cloth manufacturers in Italy, France, UK and the city guides.

C. Hill

That’s the same train of thought that I had and yes, I have bought your book “The Finest Menswear in the World”. But in these challenging times, saving a bit money is welcome.

Thomas

Simon, are Maglia umbrellas available in stores, where please, or just online. ?

V

Simon, I would greatly appreciate an article on suit canvassing. Is the canvas of a fully canvased jacket automatically floating? How do canvas materials (horsehair, cotton, etc) compare in the naturalness & structure of the the chest? What are the marginal benefits of a handstitched canvas opposed to one done with a machine? I believe you raised the last question in your article „Different ways to pad the chest of a suit“ but more insights would be welcomed. Thank you in advance! Best, Valentin

Mirko

Hi Simon,

Those umbrellas are an artisanal masterpiece. Just a question the striped apron in the photo is made with umbrella fabric?

Thank a lot.

Mirko

Z

I met Mr. Maglia more than 2 years ago. It was such a pleasure to see how they work. Francesco showed me this exquisite solid stick bamboo cane for around €2000 raw material price, if I remember correctly.

JJ Katz

As a long-missing son of Milan, I really enjoyed this article.
As well-written as it is, I wish I could transmit to your readers just how MUCH high-grade manufacturers in Italy care about their craft and product. It’s like a religion.
Next time I’m in Milan, I’ll visit the place (Covid permitting).
Oh and regarding robustness: I have a couple of J Smiths and they’ve remained unperturbed in winds upward of 40 mph.

Jose Urrutia

Beautiful Article, but also sad story…. every year the chinese keep encroaching the handmade in Europe market, where is the limit,? Only super lux brands will survive this onslaught?

Russ

Lovely umbrellas – but I’d still leave them on a train.

Manolito

One great thing about being an umbrella geek is that one looks forward to rainy days with pleasant anticipation — a chance to select one of your favourite umbrellas to match your mood that day. That in itself is a major life quality improvement: no more dread of dreary days.

Aside from the well-known Italian and English umbrella makers, and the occasional French, and even a Made in China model that somehow transcends its origins and is beautiful and strong, I can also recommend Carl Dagg of Stockholm, for Made in Sweden umbrellas that tick most of the desired boxes.

These are not solid stick, but the solid wood shafts and handles are perfectly matched . What’s nice is the metal hardware (think Swedish steel) and, even better, the cotton-blend canopies in a particularly stylish array of solid colours. Leather straps etc. are a nice added touch. Prices are excellent — not cheap, but not the price of an excellent pair of shoes, either. Customer service is very good too.

Luca

Thanks for the great article, Simon! As some readers already commented, I do believe a small investment in their web could have a major impact on the business. Said this, I’d like to hear what would your colour/pattern of choice be if you were to own only one umbrella. Thanks.

Philipp

I have an umbrella made by Pasotti bought at Mes Chausettes Rouge. Love the feel and handle of it – makes you actually look forward to rainy days. How does Pasotti compare to Maglia or Talarico?

Anonymous

Hi Simon, what are some more versatile umbrella colours that you would recommend for a first umbrella?