Monday, 7 January 2013

The Fabulous Life of Umbrellas

2012 was wet. Literally so wet. So here's hoping 2013 will serve up some more sun.

But it is only January, so let's brace ourselves for now and continue to brandish umbrellas, collapsible or otherwise.

Perhaps you don't use an umbrella though?   *shocked face*

Perhaps you prefer the smug practicality of a rainproof jacket, or perhaps you'd even go as far as to plaster yourself in the piece of equipment known as a "cag in a bag", traditionally referred to as, um, hideous-as-fuck?


General Life Rule:   If it rhymes, it doesn't get to go in or on your body.

When it comes to UMBRELLA vs. ANYTHING ELSE we can consider that pivotal question: FORM versus FUNCTION, or perhaps in this case, fashion versus function, a clearly Very Important Debate which was brought to our attention by this Wired article.

Nate Lanxon argues that the umbrella is long overdue a re-design, and admirably points out the business opportunity at hand, if someone were to invent one that didn't:

- invert at will
- fail to prevent trouser/skirt splash
- jab the eyes of passers-by

All rather inconvenient and annoying.

the worst thing ever: her world is over.

See also: "The young man boarded the crowded tube carriage with all the courtesy of an umbrella."

But Lanxon does acknowledge the entrepreneurial new tech already available, and yet we see the umbrella hold sway...

We think that to neglect the formal simplicity and elegance of the humble umbrella is to ignore an iconic piece of design, which, aside from being practically sufficient in all but the most monsoon-esque of weathers, possesses an illustrious past and enviable social life.

In other words, there is more to an umbrella than not getting wet. OH YES.

fabulous ahoy!

See also:        Coming soon: The Secret Life of Umbrellas.

and wanky new proverb we thought of:

Many are the unseen dalliances of the umbrella.

But before beginning in earnest, we feel it important to reiterate the form-function lesson with which we began, this time with what's known as a Nubrella - compare:

We're happy to keep waiting, as will this lady for a companion of any sort.
Recommended hashtags: #FOREVERALONE #UGLYASFUCK

Dita in Burberry, courtesy of T-Lo.
Recommended hastags: #WERQ #BOWDOWNPEASANTS

Now that's out of way, let's look at some of the umbrella's popular engagements. (incidentally, Burberry is actually relevant to later discussion: not everything we do is totally gratuitous).

Firstly, the umbrella in the room: RIHANNA.

This was the track that launch'd a thousand ships, or not quite, but basically catapulted Rihanna from moderate success to international globo-star. 'Umbrella' was the lead single on the still excellent Good Girl Gone Bad.

Side note: Interestingly, Rihanna did just fly a pack of semi-rabid journalists around in a plane for a 7-date 777 Tour to launch her 7th album... Is Rihanna the Helen of our time? Discuss.

The song celebrates the "shelter-giving" function of the umbrella, demonstrating its sociable tendencies (as opposed to the arguably sociopathic tendencies of the pocho or "cag in bag"). We might say cultural landmark FRIENDS also recognises this quality in its opening titles...

For Rihanna, the umbrella also functions as a moderately phallic object to cavort with (of course). However, we would only give her umbrella moves 6/10, especially when compared to Gene Kelly, to which the freewheeling fountain fun in FRIENDS, and Rihanna's video may pay homage. (maybe)

Singin' in the Rain offers the definitive illustration of the umbrella's choreographic potential, although admittedly Gene abandons any intention to stay dry quite early on. We might say he fails to subscribe to proper umbrella etiquette, which quite a few people are happy to outline: here, here, here, and here.

See also: umbrella a trois

Some naysayers might argue that this iconic moment in popular culture offers strong evidence that an umbrella's strengths lie more in the field of figurative twirling: the Billy Eliot of objects perhaps, destined to transcend its traditional pokey semi-phallic status in fabulous musico-theatrical fashion...

But we believe that current prevailing opinion regarding anti-umbrella sentiment can be largely attributed to the present ubiquity of the small black umbrella (SBU), most frequently observed collapsing in high wind, also prevailing, and giving umbrellas in general a bad name.


We are willing to concede that sometimes an umbrella isn't always ideal in the event of a monsoon, hurricane, or tsunami: at this point your hair/outfit is basically fucked. We recommend styling it out as far as is possible alla your official Plan B. (if you don't have one you're honestly beyond help).

this lady almost certainly has a Plan B.

But the shriveled status of the SBU does little to preclude such a scenario. It's far from a design improvement, and the ever-useful Middle Class Handbook highlights the pitfalls of this portable faux pas.

In order to 'telescope' successfully, the SBU's ribs are hinged. This alteration sacrifices, as well as structural resilience, the wonderful tension and poise present in the graceful lines of the umbrella's classical form.

can't you sense the poise and grace?

An SBU also denies its user the proper grandeur of an "opening flourish", the satisfying swish-and-click of the canopy as it springs into position, announcing an uncommon presence and distinction. FUCKING YES.

Honestly, opening an umbrella is the nearest we get to activating an actual lightsaber. We imagine that Andrew Mitchell wishes his umbrella would transform into some sort of fabulous bike-mounted pleb-blaster.

obviously this exists.

JK Rowling understands the magic action of the umbrella: Hagrid's is pink and hides the broken fragments of his magic wand. (which totally makes for an actually quite interesting question of gender/power/phallic things (of course)).

Give it up Vernon.

We are especially keen to know if others appreciate the the whoosh of umbrella opening, so have a hashtag.   #smallpleasures

This action is, of course, possible with a golf umbrella, but these tend to be wielded by dick-measuring corporate dick-heads, on and off the golf course (of course). Again, see Middle Class Handbook.

Both the golf umbrella and SBU pervert the moderate decorum of the medium-sized umbrella, though thankfully this is still championed by some luxury and traditional brands, alla Dita.

Burberry, for A/W 2012/13 (a.k.a. where we are now but presented last year obvs), used the umbrella alongside their iconic trench to serve British luxury realness to the world:

Cara Delevingne working tragically disengaged face. bravo.

It was a bold move, as accessories are rarely afforded such a prominent status on the runway, but makes sense: how else do you keep your quilted cashmere trench dry? Exactly.

Umbrellas continued to #takethestage in 2012, featuring in the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in a major way:

whimsical symbols of supportive, inclusive society (yay).

And of course the umbrella appeared with perhaps its most famous companion in Danny Boyle's amaze-fest:

magical maternal realness.
Case rested: the umbrella is a British icon, mostly useful, carried by fabulous magical people, and potentially quite valuable in the event of a zombie apocalypse too.

So get back on the umbrella train everyone.

en garde.

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