Very few of us ardently hope for a rainy day, but the clients of Michel Heurtault are a rarefied bunch. The umbrellas that he handcrafts for them in his bijou atelier, Parasolerie Heurtault, in the artisanal arches of Paris’s 12th arrondissement, embody the same perfectionist principles as the city’s fast-disappearing haute-couture houses. Some take upwards of 300 hours to assemble, sharing many of the elaborate techniques, sumptuous fabrics and precious materials as a Valentino ballgown – yet somehow, without eschewing practicality.
“We buy silks from the same sources as the fashion labels,” Heurtault explains, displaying a bolt of delicate, midnight-hued damask, “and treat the fabric so that it becomes thoroughly waterproof. We avoid using synthetics as much as physically possible. They simply won’t stand the test of time like silk will.”
Heurtault’s historical knowledge is as detailed as his craft. He began his career as a costume designer and spent 20 years in the film industry specialising in corsetry for period dramas, before John Galliano asked him to design haute‑couture pieces for Dior in 1996. Then, in 2008, he took the step of following his childhood passion for parasols and founded Parasolerie Heurtault. He has since been awarded the distinction of Master of Arts – one of France’s highest honours for an artisan – while the workshop is now one of only 72 Grands Ateliers de France.
His exquisite off-the-peg men’s umbrellas, such as the handsome classic Ferdinand (€490), are offered in a range of colours, with shafts in polished wood and handles carved from horn, and all can be customised. Commissions can take any number of jumping-off points, from antique handles to a particularly tricky technical spec. Heurtault recently created a foldable version (€10,000) for a globetrotting Indian businessman who only wears made-to-measure suits. “The client is delighted with it, as it fits in his hand luggage,” says Heurtault.
More extravagant models are to be found in the ladies’ collections, some breathtaking in their virtuosity and glamour. The maribou-feathered Longchamps with a silver art nouveau-style handle (€9,500) wouldn’t look out of place in the race-day scene in My Fair Lady, while the hand-embroidered canopy of Ginko (€4,500) would doubtless have made Marie Antoinette giggle with glee.
The designs look almost too beautiful to expose to the elements, but Heurtault is adamant that this is not the case. “Our pieces are exquisitely made, but they are also designed to be used,” he says. “We’ve had a note from a very wealthy member of a royal family, saying that she regularly carries her umbrella – a bespoke piece that is made with a jade handle by Fabergé and lined with green silk to match. The handle alone cost €30,000, but she steps out with it.”
The atelier’s high standards certainly make for some very happy customers, even on the dreariest of days. As a recent missive from a Sydney-based client read, “Michel, yesterday I was so happy – it finally rained!”