Paris Tips: Celebrating the Umbrella (parapluie-uie-uie)!
By Theadora Brack
Splish Splash! Sometimes in Paris, a little rain must fall. No matter when you’re visiting the City of Light—and light sprinkles, don’t leave your parapluie behind.
Here’s the deal: The weather here can change at the drop of a Schiaparelli hat. While showers don’t typically last long, I highly recommend toting a little vibrant compact number.
Make it rain
“Never carry an umbrella in Paris! There’s a law,” says Audrey Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in Billy Wilder’s “Sabrina” film.
Well, Sabrina, that’s not quite true. In fact, it was the French who invented the folding parapluie (literally, “rain protector”).
Though umbrellas have been around since the time of the pharaohs, they originally served as protection from sun, not rain (“umbrella,” after all, means “little shadow”).
The folding waterproof umbrella didn’t make its splashy debut until 1709. Jean Marius, a master purse maker (“maitre boursier,” who also happened to invent the portable harpsichord), came up with a design that was water-resistant, lightweight, and practically overnight, terribly chic.
Please share my umbrella
It’s probably no big surprise that it was “Sun King” Louis XIV who issued one of the first Royal Patents for the parapluie—as protection for his wigs, according to the palace gossips at Versailles. I can relate! I’ve had those days.
Marius quickly launched history’s first publicity campaign for a fashion accessory, landing product endorsements from other notable bigwigs, including Ben Franklin (who even hated hair pieces). Soon it became one of the most highly coveted French souvenirs.
Those early parapluies were indeed stylish and sturdy, but expensive. Fret not, the 18th century globe trekkers-of-the-day weren’t left empty-handed. Umbrellas could be rented by the hour at tourist hot spots and bridge crossings throughout Paris.
Don’t leave home without it! And you won’t either, if you pay attention to some famous Paris films before you pack. For example, in “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” heroine Helen (Elizabeth Taylor) loses her umbrella not once, but twice, before finally succumbing to pneumonia. Not you!
Les parapluies also loom large in “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg,” where Catherine Deneuve really knows how to sell an umbrella, along with trench coats and pointy patent leather shoes with kitten heels!
If you forgot to pack an umbrella, you can pick up a relatively cheap (and pretty) one at Monoprix. Selling everything from groceries and wine for your picnic, to sunglasses, band-aids, and skinny slacks, it’s one-stop shopping for all your strolling needs.
Looking for a fine vintage parapluie? I often spot them at the fleas and brocantes for just a few euros. Cha-Ching! By the way, bringing a “little shade” with you can be a lifesaver on those hot summer days, too.
If your umbrella goes bust
Umbrella broken? Don’t throw it out! Get Thierry Millet on the horn. Or stop by PEP’S (223, rue Saint-Martin, Passage de l’Ancre in the Marais), one of the last surviving umbrella repair shops in Paris. Millet will save the day and your hairdo!
This historic atelier is worth a peek even if your umbrella is in fine working condition. Repairing up to 10,000 umbrellas a year, PEP’S won’t stick it to you. An average repair costs just 10 to 15 euros, less than an umbrella. Good for the planet and your pocketbook. See, it is easy being green!
“Petit ou grand, we’ll fix it. We’re not snobs,” said the resident “docteur des parapluies,” Thierry Millet, with a wink. “Elegant women always have beautiful umbrellas.”
Also, ask to see his signature Eiffel Tower-shaped umbrella. Pack the hanky. It’s another Zou Bisou Bisou heart breaker!