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Paris Tips: Celebrating the Umbrella (parapluie-uie-uie)!

Raindrops keep falling on my head Photos by Theadora Brack

(OH!) Boy Parapluies Paris, ELLE, December 1967

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”).

Flashback

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.

Madeleine Gély Parapluies (Established in 1834), 218 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arrondissement

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!

Meet Thierry Millet  “docteur des parapluies” at PEP’S

Shopping Tip

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!

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

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50 thoughts on “Paris Tips: Celebrating the Umbrella (parapluie-uie-uie)!

  1. Great photo at the top, reference to Les parapluies de Cherbourg and one of the greatest unsung professions, the umbrella repairman. Love love love it!

    Also the idea of Louis XIV not wanting to get his wigs wet is still making me chuckle.

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    • Rob, I agree! Resident “docteur des parapluies,” Thierry Millet is a hero! By the way, your recent nod to the dancing Daffodil and William Wordsworth inspired the top shot. Ah! I’m still spending time with Wordsworth. It’s the perfect springtime read. Again, Merci! Theadora

      Though nothing can bring back the hour
      Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
      We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind.

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      • Over one year later I’m getting to your blog on umbrellas. But your quotes from Wordsworth caught my eye. I cry every time when I hear Natalie Wood read these lines in the movie “Splendor in the Grass.”

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      • YES. I also love Elia Kazan’s dramatic Splendor in the Grass! Natalie Wood IS brilliant in the classroom scene. It’s almost difficult to watch. I still cringe. I wince! I agree. It’s impossible to watch without crying. T. (Miss Metcalf, May I be excused?!)

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    • Thanks! I have a new obsession in my life. I’m now fascinated, FASCINATED with umbrellas. Counting down the hours until the weekend fleas. Oh, sigh! Theadora

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    • Thanks, Vivian! The Sun King has always been one of my favorite fashion icons. For the love of mules and Christian Louboutin, Louis XIV also made the red heel popular. He even decorated his heels with miniature battle scenes! I’d love a pair.

      (Also, have you seen Les Parapluies de Cherbourg? If not, add it to your list. The vibrant sets and wallpaper will knock your socks off! T.

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    • Thank you! The Umbrella Doctor gave me a tip for the road. If you live in a windy city, up your umbrella “rib” count to ten as opposed to the standard eight. Yes, I’m now terribly obsessed with les parapluies. Enjoy the week! Theadora

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  2. Nice (not boring) history lesson. Thank you for the shopping tips, you are making Paris accessible to those of us who only dream of living there!

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    • Thank you for such kind words! You made my day. My month! Paris is a wonderful city. I try to seize each and every day with camera and senses! (Have you visited Paris?) Enjoy the day, Theadora

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    • Dear London Caller! Here’s a rainy day in London story. I once saw the “Notting Hill” film in the historic Coronet theater in Notting Hill. It was not planned. I was jet lagged. And an angry storm was approaching! I loved the theater. The Coronet actually had a cameo role in the film. I loved the red velvet chairs! Theadora

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    • Thanks, Gordon! I’m looking forward to seeing your recent park shots on Red Hibiscus. Have you taken your post “live” yet? Cheers! Theadora (Do you have a favorite area in Paris?)

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  3. Going to work every day, I take my sunglasses and pocket umbrella because you never know what the weather will be like in Paris from one moment to the next…

    As for the etymology of “parapluie”, a friend of mine and i went through a list of French words that have the prefix “par/para” for protection. Like parasol, against the sun, parchoc (car bumper, against bumps), parachute (against falls)…what a wonderful language French is!

    Thanks for your informative post, Theadora!

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    • Thank you, Paul! Yes, when it rains in Paris, blue skies are usually right around the corner. I love photographing the old cobblestones in the sunlight after a rainstorm or street cleaning. They sparkle! Not everyone digs the constant changes in the weather and lighting. It nearly drove Edward Hopper mad!

      Thanks also for sharing the prefix “par/para” tidbits. Interesting!! Great dinner party game idea! Theadora

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    • Merci, Shira! One of my friends often visits her family in Cherbourg. Parapluie pilgrims are still paying homage the umbrella shop. Sadly, I think it’s now a clothing shop. Cha-cha-changes! Maybe I’ll create a list of surviving umbrella shops in Paris. Hey, thanks for the brainstorming session! Theadora

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  4. That’s just about the cutest, smartest, post I have ever read–I learned so much! Who knew? Thanks for introducing a little sunshine into my day.

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  5. Bonjour Theodora ! Adoerable !!!!(with French accent )
    I love reading your posts, they never fail to make me smile, and the wonderful photos make me feel like I have taken a mini trip to Paris every time I check in ! Thank you,Merci love your Joie de Vivre (name of my once upon time flower shop,because flowers are so joyful !! )

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    • Dear Judy Judy Girl! Thanks so much for you sweet words! Ah! I love, love the name of your flower shop. Joie de Vivre! Indeed. Your “Another Day in Wonderland” site always makes me smile. Your recent closeup photograph of the sunflower was fantastical! “All I Need” was the perfect name for the post. I agree! Theadora

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  6. I love that shoe picture, and the story of the parapluie-uie-uie. I hereby resolve not to forget my umbrella if I visit Paris- and more importantly, to stop forgetting it here in rainy Pittsburgh. -kate

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    • Thanks, Kate! On second though, I recommend “forgetting” your parapluie. And then perhaps, perhaps, purchasing one in Paris. They’re the perfect souvenir! Wink! Theadora

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  7. Fabulous post Theadora, I love your blog! I always learn something new. And, this post goes well with my ‘Oh, for the Love of Umbrella Brooches’ post. ;0
    X
    BD

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    • I agree!! Your “Oh, for the Love of Umbrella Brooches” is the perfect companion to this post! Thanks to you, I think I have yet another new collection brewing. The umbrella accessories! Oh, my. (I also enjoyed today’s celebration of celluloid bling. I loved how you peppered the post with historical tidbits!) Enjoy the weekend! Theadora

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  8. What a wonderful post! Light and entertaining, yet informative. I’m so glad you stopped by my damp post today otherwise I may have missed this. I will admit that as an Oregonian I grew up believing only wimps used umbrellas… as an adult my tune changed. I can still be seen trekking through the rain without one quite frequently though as it is sometimes more hassle than its worth when the rain is coming down sideways. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more when I’ve got a bit more time.

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    • Merci! Well, your damp post stopped me in my tracks today. From top to bottom, your pics were lovelies! (As a former Baltimore gal, I’ve never been a fan of umbrellas. Until I read its history, met Monsieur Millet at PEP’s, and watched “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” once or fifty times! Now I’m hooked. I’m in the process of creating a list of the surviving parapluie shops in Paris.) Enjoy the weekend! Theadora

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      • Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it and I look forward to more posts from you on umbrellas, as well as just about anything else. I like your style. It’s late for you so I hope you get some rest and have a good weekend. Don’t forget your umbrella… 😉

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  9. Great post and pictures, Theadora! The Dutch still calls the umbrella “paraplu” after the French original. When I came to Holland, I was told to always have an umbrella as it is always raining in this country. Maybe true then but not now. In fact, March has been the driest month this year with no rain at all. I miss the rain and wouldn’t mind carrying a parapluie. My daughter would love to be on her rubber boots stomping on the puddles and with umbrella in her hand. 😉

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    • Thanks, Malou! Interesting language tidbit! And speaking of parapluies, I bet your umbrella is smashing-looking! Pink, per chance? I’m always jealous of your daughter’s coats, boots and princess gowns, of course. Both of you are quite the fashion plates! Theadora (And let’s not forget to mention your dashing husband! Wink.)

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    • Dear Catbird!! Whoa! Thank you for the swell shout-out and umbrella tip!! Blushing, here. And congratulations to you!! I love the parapluie skeleton – mobile idea! Fabulous! When do you plan to start? Keep me posted. I’m looking forward to seeing the pics!! Theadora (And again, MERCI!! It means a great deal.)

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      • Hahaha…as soon as I find the darn thing. I left it outside on a table and that’s the last I’ve seen of it. I’m hoping that it went to the shed or something.

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    • Thanks, Ann! And congratulations to you!! I love your work. Especially the birds!! Theadora (I also loved your Notre Dame painting. It’s lovely. You are one lucky gal!)

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    • Merci, Monsieur Tin Man!! By the way, I’m getting ready to read your Times Square, New York, New York report. It looks fabulous! Theadora (I miss New York. I used to live on the historic tip of Staten Island. Sigh!)

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    • Thanks, Sara! I’ve seen “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg about fifty times. I’m hooked. I still cry at the end of film. No spoilers! Just hype. I love the old “Esso” sign, the fur coat and snow. Getting teary now! Theadora (Have you seen it?!)

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      • Yes, it’s so moving at the end, really. And it’s surprising to me to see a musical in French. I love musicals, but it’s a very American genre (or at least that’s what I’ve always thought).

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      • Sara! Here’s another favorite: “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort” (1967) by Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda is wonderful. (Varda’s non-musical “Cléo from 5 to 7” film is seamless. Maybe you’ve seen it?) And here’s one more for the road! Jean Renoir’s French Cancan” (1954) is also worth a peak. Thanks for the classic French chitchat! Theadora

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