January 30, 2010
Winter in Paris can be tough on the psyche, with one grey day following the next. But Zeva’s post (from Paris by Appointment Only) about Michel Heurtault’s amazing couture umbrellas has us doing rain dances. Who knew showery could be so chic?
Text and Photos by Zeva Bellel
I write about some pretty unusual talents on this blog, but couture umbrella maker just might be my rarest find yet. That’s why I’m letting Michel Heurtault, owner of the fabulous umbrella shop, Parasolerie Heurtault, tell the story behind his flabbergasting art.
I’ve been obsessed with umbrellas from the time I was three. I have no idea why, but I could spend hours breaking them apart and studying how they opened and closed. I collected all of the umbrellas I could find, and by the time I was eight I was repairing them for people in my neighborhood. Needless to say, my parents thought I was nuts.
I moved from Toulon to Paris when I was eighteen and began working as a costume designer. I eventually opened my own company, Art ‘Scene, where I made costumes and corsets for film shoots, theatre productions as well as fashion houses such as Dior. I poured the most luxurious elements into my costumes.
Throughout the same period, I devoted all of my free time to making umbrellas and parasols. I didn’t want to make them in polyester and plastic like everyone else, so I started researching ways to waterproof and UV-protect noble materials, like lace, cotton, silk and linen. Anyone can put fabric on an umbrella, but my signature is to use only the finest materials, experiment with the cut, and handcraft the finishes so that it becomes a striking object with a soul.
I use an 18th century machine to cut my fabric into eight panels and then bend and shape them to create the curves and silhouette of the umbrella. The fabric needs to be as taut as possible. The sound of the umbrella when it opens, the stretching and tightening until it springs into place is a sign of quality. The more the fabric flutters, the more it catches the wind like a sail, causing the umbrella to shake and break.
I do all of the detail and finishing by hand. I pad the ribs and smock the runners with fabric for aesthetic and practical reasons. It unifies the color of the design, prevents rusting, and helps the umbrella open and close more easily.
I consider the umbrella to be a fashion accessory. Not only is it a beautiful item to carry in your hand, it gives you instant attitude and allure. I’m always shocked by the number of people who spend a ton of time and energy on their ensemble, but then ruin it with a revolting umbrella.
Instead of a cigarette, you have an umbrella to play with. It’s the final touch to a chic silhouette.
So many women come to me and say that they’d love to carry a parasol, but that it’s not really fashionable. And I tell them, ‘it’s not just about fashion, it’s about personal comfort.’ When you’re under a parasol you don’t sweat as much, your makeup doesn’t drip off, you’re not oppressed by the sun, and of course, it’s great for protecting your skin.
Umbrellas have been vulgarized as disposable objects. We throw away 10 million per year in France and 33 million in the USA. During your grandmother’s era an umbrella was a luxury object; you bought one every year and when it broke, you had it repaired. I’m not obsessed with the past, I’m just thinking about a future that’s ecologically chic.
Shop and Atelier Address: 91 Avenue Daumesnil, 75012, Paris
Price: Starting at €300
Written by Tory Hoen
After attending Brown University and spending two years in New York, Tory bought a one-way ticket to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a writer (and of drinking wine at lunch). During her time in the City of Light, she chronicled the euphoric highs and the laughable lows of ex-pat life on her blog, A Moveable Beast. Though she's now based in New York, she travels frequently to Montreal and Brazil, and she'll use just about any excuse to jet to Paris ("I ran out of fleur de sel"). A regular contributor to Hip Paris, Tory also writes for New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and she is a co-author of Gradspot.com's Guide To Life After College.
Website: Tory Hoen