What was once de rigueur for the dapper gentleman, the umbrella has fallen out of fashion in recent years. Hailing from the country most renowned for their craftsmanship, Jamie Milestone sought to change that. Combining focused craftsmanship with modern aesthetics, his company — London Undercover — has been putting umbrellas back into the hands (and over the heads) of men around the world since 2008.
“It’s like fish and chips. Or beans on toast. They’re just quintessentially British.”
While he may have missed lunch, Jamie Milestone is, in fact, not referring to a favored meal. He’s referring to those portable parasols known as umbrellas, a product that his company, London Undercover, has been designing and manufacturing for the past seven years.
“Before umbrellas, if you needed to get from one side of London to the other, you took a horse and carriage,” says Jamie. “But when the umbrella arrived, it was like the Uber of its day. Now the people could take things into their own hands.”
While our options for covered transportation have evolved significantly since then, sometimes you’ve got to use your own two feet. And while donning a sturdy rain jacket or sprinting with your head down are personal favorites, neither solution fares well under particularly heavy precipitation. In such cases, an umbrella is a timeless and functional solution.
“When I was at school, you were awarded an item associated with school colors,” says Jamie. “Early on it was rugby socks. And then a school tie. And as you got older it was a scarf. And then finally…an umbrella. When you got that, you had sort of become a man. And that stuck with me. Men don’t have many accessories. An umbrella is such a great item and it is quite a masculine thing.”
Whether you find umbrellas masculine or otherwise, there’s no disagreeing they’re a fine solution for keeping yourself (and potentially a companion) properly dry when enduring the elements. So why do we see so few out on the streets? For one, many Americans embrace the childish “umbrellas are for wimps” attitude (one that is nearly ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest). Secondly, too many of us have experienced a cheap umbrella failing right when we needed it most. There are few things like an errant spoke or crumpled frame to dampen your head along with your spirits.
Though Jamie and company can’t help your umbrella-objecting ego, they can (and do) deliver a product that won’t suffer the same demise as their drugstore contemporaries. The wide canopies of London Undercover’s “City Lux” line, for example, are crafted from dense woven cotton and trimmed with a brass and leather fastening. The shafts and handles are whittled from individual pieces of beech and malacca wood respectively. All these elements — held together with a silver tip cup, steel spokes, and ferrule — are assembled by hand in a factory just up the street from London Undercover’s retail shop in the East end of London.
As for the canopies, which are made primarily of waterproof cotton, they vary in design from standard black, navy, and gray to patterns inspired by subway maps and constellations. With the variety and charm of the fabrics, London Undercover has combined timeless construction technique with modern trimmings to deliver products with a British sensibility that is at once classic and whimsical. Combining old and new in a package that is ultimately very familiar.
“The umbrella silhouette is pretty timeless,” says Jamie. “A child can draw a picture of an umbrella and it will be pretty accurate. We don’t feel the need to do something fancy. An umbrella should look like an umbrella.” And it should function like one also.
So, regardless of drizzle or deluge, we recommend you forgo the plastic telescoping umbrella from the corner store. Rather, invest in a proper one from the rain-friendly Brits at London Undercover. Your head (and maybe even your sense of humor) are guaranteed to stay dry all season long.