My umbrella has been used more in the last two weeks than in the previous three months. Waking up in London these days is like waking up on the set of The Day After Tomorrow. In my room, a row of shoes with the Evening Standard stuffed into them, are drying out after being soaked by the sodden streets; my khaki raincoat is hanging on the back of my bathroom door, having spent the night dripping onto the tiles and my umbrella, trusty friend, is sitting in the brass stand by the front door, exhausted and deserving of a rest but still managing to protect me from the tempest that rages outside.
“Another one bust!” an acquaintance announced, holding out a mangled compact umbrella, as I arrived holding my whangee handled friend. “How the hell does your umbrella not break?” he asked with a wink of jealousy “I bet it’s because you spent a fortune on it. These cheap ones are always going to bust.” In fact, I hadn’t spent a fortune on my umbrella. My umbrella cost me £15. “Oh, so have you bought loads of them then?” Not at all, I responded. I have used the same umbrella for more than 5 years. My acquaintance, a professional in a career that demands knowledge and particularly detailed knowledge of value, looked positively stunned at the suggestion that a smart, expensive-looking umbrella could be bought inexpensively and could also last. Naturally, he then asked me where I found this umbrella and I was happy to oblige him.
The argument of the umbrella enthusiast is that there are very few places to purchase proper umbrellas; indeed, many would suggest these can be counted on one hand. James Smith & Co is the most mentioned, followed by Swaine, Adeney & Brigg and finally Fox. In fact, one memorable comment from an online forum concluded the matter rather neatly; “If you haven’t bought it from one of these suppliers, you haven’t bought an umbrella.” However, parsimony can rule out a purchase from one of these excellent sources. They don’t really sell budget umbrellas and, even for gentlemen who spend hundreds of pounds on shoes and suits, the thought of splashing between £100 and £300 for an umbrella is often unthinkable. There is a perfectly rational reason for this; they fear losing or breaking an umbrella far more than a pair of shoes or a suit, and for good reason; as strong as an umbrella is built, against the harshest elements it seems but a fragile folly. The same men are also very unlikely to spend on sunglasses – another breakage/loss item – suggesting that even when attracted by aesthetics, practical and, let’s face it, pessimistic thinking wins out.
Classic Canes, supplier of my battered (and now slightly bent) umbrella, supply a smart, resilient and inexpensive (£25) alternative. It is not as grand as the malacca or walnut sticks at Brigg or Smith, nor as well-finished and neat as their lightweight versions, but it is smart enough to grace a gentleman’s umbrella stand and strong enough to see out years of consistent use. The decision that a gentleman needs to make is whether this is sufficient, particularly whether it is smart enough to care about, hence, not leave on a train or in a theatre or, whether he wants the ultimate refinement of a Brigg, Smith or Fox and knows that the mere price and memorable quality of such a brolly will prevent him ever forgetting that it is in his possession.