The Art of Crafting a Francesco Maglia Umbrella

Rain - loved by ducks and owners of Francesco Maglia umbrellas. Joshua Bozin goes behind the scenes at the umbrella maker's workshop...
The Art of Crafting a Francesco Maglia Umbrella
There are very few items in a man’s arsenal which hold true sentimental value. We’re talking about those items that won’t decay with time, nor be forgotten with passing years. Francesco Maglia has been crafting umbrellas for over 160 years, making a product we so long for in today’s market of fast fashion. Made to last a lifetime, the stalwart umbrella is reminiscent of a time gone by… but it’s making a comeback. The umbrella, for a considerable amount of time, has been somewhat forgotten; scarcely used and often neglected. Because, why would we need an umbrella in this day and age? With the rapid evolution of technology and globalisation as a whole, the likes of ubers, public transport and the automotive industry has made its services readily available. In other words, we can get from A to B quite comfortably. But Francesco Maglia, now a 6th generation Maglia from Milan, Italy, is bringing back the romanticism of owning - and carrying - the long-trusted umbrella, guaranteed to stay with you through the peaks and valleys of life (yes, we refer to London’s formidable weather patterns). “Francesco Maglia umbrellas are a product from a different time; a time where people weren't travelling with cars or with public transport. They would have to walk everywhere. So, the umbrella was one of the most important products for the population of the time,” explains Francesco Maglia, director of namesake company. “Today, the tradition remains the same as it did when my great, great, great, great grandfather started the company in 1854. Every Francesco Maglia umbrella is made-to-measure in our workshop in Milano, offering a very large selection of products to our customers which are all uniquely different and perfectly made for you.”
Winding the clock back, Francesco Maglia is one of the oldest manufacturers of umbrellas in the world, and one of the few surviving. Founded in 1854 by Francesco Maglia, he would travel from city to city making umbrellas for businessmen and prominent figures of the time. At the age of 20, Maglia decided to start his own company in Milan, seeing a gap in the market for this product as the city’s population grew. Now over 160-years later, Francesco Maglia continues to craft the same umbrella that forged its iconic status of today. Likened by royalty and the everyday businessman alike, for years business was thriving thanks to its ingenuity, quality, style and design. Today, 28-year old Francesco Maglia not only carries the name of his founding ancestors, but the baton for the next generation of Francesco Maglia customer: millennials. Bringing back that idea of owning a quality item for life - a romantic notion at that - a return to culture and curiosity is, perhaps, what is needed to elevate this brand to the next level. “I am looking to position this brand to a fresh, younger customer and generation who would appreciate what our umbrellas stand for: history and quality,” says Maglia. “It’s not a cultural problem. It’s a matter of necessity. People don’t need umbrellas. But I’m giving people the opportunity to design something truly unique for themself. At the start you may not understand it but year on year when you’re carrying the same product with you, it’ll become an integral part of your life.” When posing the question of why one should purchase a Francesco Maglia umbrella, the answer lies unequivocally in its craft and history; a fact that Maglia himself is immensely proud of. It also happens to be a stylish accessory for the sartorial-minded individual, beyond its capabilities as a weather shield. “You buy a Francesco Maglia umbrella because you are making a choice. You decide to be different from others and in turn, you invest in a great product with a fantastic history behind it, which is what people are looking for in products today,” says Maglia. “We change things every day, so it’s important to have something that will be with you forever. It’s somewhat a legacy and people want to trust in a legacy; they need to.”
The magic of these umbrellas lies within its craft, with one umbrella alone going through 70 rigorous steps of hand work. The three key production areas involve: mechanical work, fabric cutting, and stitching and sewing, with many variables in between. For example, in order to shape the wood into a handle of one umbrella, there is a lot of skill and time needed, sometimes taking up to six months until the shape is perfect. The umbrellas are assembled on wooden shafts made from all types of natural wood imported from all over the world; maple is used from Canada; hickory from America; malacca from Indonesia; bamboo from Japan; ashwood from Tuscany; and the list goes on. From there, woodworking such as bending, grinding, polishing and smoking processes are all performed manually by skilled artisans. What this achieves is a very unique point of difference; every shaft is a one of a kind piece. As for the materials of the umbrella itself, manufacturers have run scarce due to a lack of demand in recent years, with only three manufacturers of fine handmade umbrellas left in the world - two purchasing parts from Francesco Maglia directly. A Jacquard blend of cotton, silk and wool is used for the hood of the umbrella - as opposed to silk in the glory days of umbrella making - with a coat of Teflon applied for waterproofing. Fabrics are hand cut into trapezoids and subsequently sewn together - much like a tailor would cut fabric for a bespoke suit. One of the last processes involves attaching the fabric to the spokes, which is also done by hand. With a true artisan touch, extra fabric is sewn by hand to ensure holes do not form from use. What results is the perfect umbrella made for a lifetime of use. For made-to-measure purposes, the options are endless, with choice falling back onto the customer when it comes to height, the type of wood, the pattern of the fabric, the design and more. “When you purchase one of our [Francesco Maglia] umbrellas, you are investing in a product for life. Some of our skilled artisans have been with the company for over 40-years, who oversee every step of production. Only the best materials are used, which is why you’ll never see a Francesco Maglia umbrella littered on the city street after a rainy day,” says Maglia. “Quality will always be the main point of this brand. Always. We will never come to a compromise in terms of quality. We are Francesco Maglia thanks to our quality choices.”


Moving into its next phase, an overarching challenge for the brand is to continue the traditions of its glorified past and that lies with the skills of its artisans - it can take up to five years for one worker to learn the crafts of making an umbrella alone. “Our biggest challenge as a business is to continue to find and work with skilled workers and manufacturers who know how to make our product. We constantly invest in new and good suppliers and travel far and wide to find true artisans,” says Maglia. “Today, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find people who are good workers, especially with their hands. Apprenticeships don’t exist anymore, so you have to be good at sharing the ideas and knowledge of the product and brand with your workers.” Maglia leaves us with a short anecdote that shows his love and infatuation with this brand he has grown and matured with since a little boy. Speaking fondly of a recent customer experience, Maglia reflects on the impact it left on him to hear a grandson travel to Milan to have his grandfather’s Francesco Maglia umbrella repaired after 50-years of use. Perhaps some things are made to last after all...