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Vintage French brollies tell a story of handcrafted luxury

June 25,2019
Umbrellas and parasols from the 18th to 20th centuries are on display at Platform-L Contemporary Art Center’s “Summer Bloom: A Story of French Umbrellas.” The exhibition runs until Sept. 19. [PLATFORM-L]
Just in time for monsoon season, Platform-L Contemporary Art Center is bringing umbrellas into the spotlight at new exhibition “Summer Bloom: A Story of French Umbrellas.”

The gallery in southern Seoul’s posh Gangnam District is showcasing over 100 French umbrellas and parasols created between the 1700s and the late 1900s. They’ve been brought over to Asia for the first time from the massive collection of France’s leading umbrella creator Michel Heurtault.

The stunning display of umbrellas and parasols, although retaining the same canopy shape, are far different from the monochrome plastics stocked in stores today. Decorated with delicate lace, jewels and even ivory and tortoise shell, they’re closer to art than shields from the rain.

“If brand names are used today to show off wealth, in the 18th to 20th century, it was how artistic your umbrellas were, how much manual labor went into them,” Heurtault said during a press briefing at the gallery on June 13.

Heurtault, whose mission is “to bring umbrellas and parasols to their former glory,” received the title of Master Artist from the French Ministry of Culture in 2013 for his contribution to keeping the centuries-old tradition alive. The artist’s works today involve crafting customized orders at his atelier Parasolerie Heurtault, restoring vintage umbrellas and making props for films and musicals, some of which are now displayed at Platform-L.

Heurtault brought some of his most prized collections for this exhibition. The oldest umbrella at “Summer Bloom” is from 1740. It’s a creation by Jean Marius, the master purse maker during Louis XIV’s time, who is credited for inventing the first pocket parasol, a collapsible umbrella with foldable frames.

Also on display are the so-called “Japanese Umbrellas,” which incorporate Asian designs like the yin-yang symbol and use varnished wood and imported swords for the handle. Clippings of parasols featured in Parisian store catalogues from the early 1900s are showcased as well.

On sale at Platform-L’s gift shop are Heurtalt’s own creations and vintage umbrellas from the ‘60s, priced from around 700,000 won ($600).

BY KIM EUN-JIN [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]

“Summer Bloom” runs until Sept. 19. Admission fee for adults is 8,000 won, and hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The gallery is closed on Mondays.