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Umbrella: history of design and practicality

The warmest, most colorful and cheerful season of all is now becoming, once again, just a memory that will warm up the days throughout the year. Autumn with its melancholy rains is upon us. The best way to avoid being caught is to always carry an umbrella to use in case of need. Behind this so common object there is very ancient history.

The original function of the umbrella was to protect from the sun. It was used in various places on earth: especially where the sun is less indulgent. The place of origin is not known with certainty, but it is thought that it was probably invented in China or in India or Egypt. In older cultures, there are representations of this object. The umbrella is present in the frescoes in Egyptian tombs and in ancient Chinese books. For these populations, it symbolized power and also had a religious value. In particular, in Egypt, the goddess Nut was often represented in the form of a parasol, with the arched body covering the earth, in the act of protection and love.

In ancient Greece, it was linked to the cult of Dionisio and of the goddesses, Pallas Athena and Persephone, venerated during ceremonies that were held outdoors and where something was needed to protect themselves from the sun.

From the 12th century BC and for the next thirty-two centuries, the ceremonial umbrella was part of the Emperor of China’s insignia. In the Persian kingdoms, only the sovereigns, unique in the entire population, had the privilege of sheltering from the sun through an umbrella held up by servants.

In the Roman Empire, it was used mainly by the female population to defend itself from the sun’s rays. In Latin literature, particularly in Ovid’s production, it is attested that the umbrella was used as an object of seduction. During the shows in the arena, the spectators were covered by the sun by a curtain that was laid at the end of the structure. For windy days, as it is impossible to position the curtain, the women used silk umbrellas decorated with pearls and shells.

The function of a symbol of power was preserved for many centuries. In 1176, the Doge of Venice asked the Pope for permission to present himself to the public protected by an umbrella in brocade and woven with gold threads as a further manifestation of power and nobility.

Thanks to Caterina de ’Medici, in the sixteenth century, the parasol arrived in France. Later it spread to England, where it began to be used to shelter from the rain. This news is not certain, but thinking about the English climate there are all the reasons to believe its truthfulness.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the function of protection from the rain is also attested in France. Only in the following century, umbrellas for rain came to Italy, where they became objects of design and fashion.

Over the years we have indulged in the creation of these objects: from the strangest shapes to the smallest dimensions to make them easily transportable. For some they are real design objects; this is the case of Justin Evan Nagelberg, who created Sa. It is an umbrella without a metallic skeleton but characterized by a mechanism that uses surface tension to sustain itself. To open and close the umbrella, simply turn the handle. To keep it closed, instead of the classic Velcro cord, Sa is equipped with a magnet. It is also an eco-sustainable umbrella: it is made up of waterproof and recyclable plastic polymers.

The name Sa comes from the Japanese and is an acronym of the words “Kasa”, which means umbrella, and “same”, rain.
The Rain Shield umbrella, designed by two students Lin Min-Wei and Liu Li-Hsiang, has a futuristic design instead. The name literally means “shield for the rain” and is illustrative as this umbrella has such a shape that the user is sheltered from the rain and wind at the same time. Even Rain Shield does not have a metal skeleton but is foldable up to occupy a space of only 18 centimeters.

For lovers of practicality, there are two answers: Cover-brella and Stay-brella. The first characterized by a carbon fiber frame is very small and light (it weighs only about 108 grams). The second one is an umbrella that can stand up on its own with a handle.

It is Hiroshi Kajimoto’s credit for having created UnBrella, an abbreviation of Upside Down Umbrella, or the umbrella in reverse. The frame is characterized by external rods that allow an opening opposite to the classic one. The advantages of this structure are two; closing, on the contrary, the water ends up in the center and does not fall out and is also able to stand upright, making the umbrella stands useless.

In honor of this object, a museum has been built in Gignese, a Piedmontese municipality in the province of Verbania, where you can learn about the history of the umbrella through the exhibition of the oldest and most precious models.

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