Can a luxury umbrella be both “smart” and smart? Meaning, can it be both tech-enabled and stylish? Tough question, dear reader. What are the best “smart” and stylish luxury umbrellas on the market right now?
umbrella-related vocabulary and history
A brief word on nomenclature before we proceed: an umbrella keeps you dry in the rain. A parasol protects you from the sun.
The first known reference to an umbrella dates to ancient China. The concept seems to have originated there (the Chinese character for umbrella is a pictograph that resembles a modern umbrella). Or possibly in India – in any case, it migrated to the West via the Silk Road.
For the first thousand years, both umbrellas and parasols were a luxury reserved for the wealthy. Throughout the ages, it’s clear that people have actually formed emotional attachments to their umbrellas. Otherwise, why would there be so many crazy-odd names for them? Bumbershoot, gamp, Hanway, brolly, and parapluie, just to name a few.
There’s even a National Umbrella Day, celebrated on February 10th in many countries around the world. Why? We have no idea.
the umbrella’s practical and emotional appeal
When you think about it, an umbrella is a fine companion. In addition to shielding you from the elements, it can double as a club, a cane, even a makeshift sword to pretend-fence with your friends (awesome cure for boredom).
It can be modified to become a weapon of assassination, or a means of additional protection. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first head of state to use a Kevlar-coated umbrella as part of his security measures.
A brolly can even become a form of political protest: the 2014 Hong Kong protests became known as “the Umbrella Revolution” because the protesters used them to defend against pepper spray and tear gas.
As a fashion statement, they’re unparalleled. Gentlemen of style have frequently made their umbrellas a key part of their signature look. John F. Kennedy’s gift to the groomsmen at his wedding to Jackie was a black Brooks Brothers umbrella.
It’s clearly an item that can be far more than just functional: a great umbrella should also bring a sense of style, heritage, whimsy, and élan.
umbrellas are a category ripe for improvement
And yet, despite all of that history and functionality, there’s a lot of work still to be done in this category.
When you think about it, there is a lot of room for innovation in the world of umbrellas. People have lots of complaints about them, especially in cities where a lot of the population moves around on foot and has to navigate large pedestrian crowds.
they interact poorly with other people
We have seen fist-fights break out over someone poking a passer-by in the face with the tip of their umbrella. We’ve seen people showered with water because they had the misfortune of standing next to an uncaring person who closes their enormous wet umbrella with a shake before entering a building. Let’s make a pact right now that we will mutually agree to never be That Person.
they’re easily lost or stolen
We’ve had umbrellas stolen from restaurant cloakrooms, left them in cabs, and also at other people’s houses. Sometimes we really need one but don’t have one because the weather forecast was wrong (or because we didn’t check it that morning).
they’re hard to handle – and they break easily
When it’s windy, umbrellas frequently turn inside out. They can also be devilishly hard to open (especially when they’re wet). Perhaps worst of all, they’re fragile – so if you don’t lose your umbrella, you’ll surely break it. We probably go through four of them a year. In a good year.
A friend has sworn off of umbrellas altogether, claiming it’s too much hassle and it’s easier to just get wet. Can we just say, that has to be a traditional guy thing? Very few chic people we know could even form that thought, let alone verbalize it. Just get wet? You must be kidding.
is help on the way?
Have the brilliant technologists among us figured out smart fixes for any of these enduring problems? We decided to find out.
the best “smart” umbrellas right now
It turns out that in recent years, there have been some actual innovations in the umbrella category. There are a small number of “smart” umbrella brands that promise to solve one or more of the aforementioned issues. Here’s what we found.
The Kisha smart umbrella ($99.95) promises that you will never lose or leave your brolly behind again. It’s connected to your smartphone, and you’ll get an alert if you leave it somewhere.
The Senz umbrella ($45.00) was created by an industrial designer who claims that it is virtually impossible for it to blow inside out. Apparently, two-thirds of the Dutch in Amsterdam carry this umbrella.
The aptly-named Weatherman umbrella ($65.00) was conceived by meteorologist Rick Reichmuth. And it promises to solve both of these problems: no getting lost, or turned inside out.
The product is made of industrial-strength fiberglass to prevent inverting and breaking. The brand reports that it can withstand winds up to 55 mph (the question is whether you can withstand winds that high). It’s coated with Teflon to ensure that it repels the maximum amount of water. Bluetooth technology tracks the umbrella so you don’t lose it, and the brand’s app makes sure you don’t leave it behind.
The Davek umbrella with Loss Alert technology ($135) also connects to your smart phone. A tiny beacon chip embedded into the handle will broadcast a special “proximity signal” from your umbrella so it never gets lost.
The core support rib is composed of steel, aircraft-grade aluminum and flexible fiberglass. The shaft is 100% solid steel. This combination of rigidity and flexibility gives this umbrella good stability. The canopy is made from high-thread count microfiber fabric, which helps repel rain.
The Blunt umbrella ($79.00) is said to be aerodynamically designed to withstand winds up to 55 miles per hour. Its “Radial Tensioning System” is said to redirect the effort you use to open it. The brand claims that it unfolds with just one hand. It’s GPS-ready with support for the Tile tracking system so you won’t lose it. What we found most intriguing is that it’s the only smart umbrella that addresses the “eye poke” problem. Because it has blunted edges, it shouldn’t poke others standing near you the way other umbrellas do.
SwissTek’s double layer umbrella ($44.95) opens from the top instead of the bottom, which the company says makes it easier to open, close, and store. The ergonomic C-shaped handle is designed to fit around your wrist for hands-free use. It stands vertically while it’s closed, so it reportedly dries faster. Meaning that it’s ready to get back to the hustle when you are.
A group of engineers from rainy Vancouver are the brains behind the Hedgehog umbrella ($99.00). Their creation has a fully carbon fiber architecture, interchangeable canopy capability, and an automotive-inspired suspension system to combat the wind. The claim is that it is far more durable than other umbrellas, meaning you won’t have to keep replacing it.
are these “smart” umbrellas sufficiently smart?
So, what say you? Are these “smart” enough and smart enough to earn a place in your entry hallway? And perhaps more importantly: will you be singing Rihanna’s iconic song as you splash your way through the city? ‘Cause we totally will.
see luxury in a new light
Come and join our community! For a weekly round-up of insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier Sunday Read here. And see luxury in a new light.