A talk with Francesco Maglia Family
Passion and tradition that challenge the dictates of the time. The Francesco Maglia umbrella is an accessory that evokes the past, perfect for living contemporary with a style of other times. Created by the skilled hands of expert craftsmen, umbrellas are always the same peculiarities of 1854, the year of foundation of the company of the same name. At the fifth generation, Francesco and Giorgio, the two Maglia brothers run the company together. To know each one of them and chatting with Francesco, Chino for friends, and his nephew Francesco, his successor, Giorgio's son, has been a great honor for the TBD Journal. The passion and care of every production process that echoes in their stories seems to relive by touching and observing their creations. It is no longer the same after having had an umbrella handmade by Maglia family.
Where does the history of your umbrellas come from?
Chino: As a company, it started by my great-grandfather, so I am the 5th generation. In 1850 he was an apprentice, he had a job in the province of Brescia and in 1854 at 18 years old he became a member of the company, then he went to Pavia alone. In Pavia he spent 4/5 years and then he came to Milan in 1876 in Corso Genova, where we stayed until 16 years ago, we left only in 1942-1943 because we were bombed, then they remade the floors, and rebuilt everything and finally and we're back inside.
What has changed from the beginning up to today at the production level?
Chino: For me, only the material of the fabrics has changed. Once It was silk or cotton silk, but today it's all made of polyamide and polyester.
So the thing you regret the most are materials?
Chino: Yes, because silk has always been a symbol of the parasol.
What changes between an umbrella made in China and a Maglia umbrella?
Francesco Jr: Production in China is identical to the production in Italy. Differences between a Maglia umbrella and a Chinese umbrella are the choice of suppliers and components. So, while in China they use a lot of plastic, we do not use it or other bad metals, we use only metals with high carbon content to give elasticity and a certain type of resistance to the product. We do not use lightweight nylon fabric, all our fabrics are polyester or polycotton, or cotton, dyed jacquard thread, made with looms for ties, thus the fabric is developed permeable and then made waterproof with a second process called “resinatura”. Resin is spread inside the fabric, so the umbrella is externally shiny, has a good result in the light and internally has the part of resin that provides excellent waterproofing. They are 3 times more impermeable than the standard requirements for importing Chinese umbrella from China to abroad.
When you already have all the materials, how long does it take to make an umbrella?
Francesco Jr: If I have everything in the company and the seamstresses do not take long, it is about 1 h, but it must be a simple umbrella, just the simplest possible, but if there are special requests, the umbrella requires more time.
The essential part of an umbrella, from which its true quality comes from?
Francesco Jr: The best product of the company Maglia is the umbrella mounted on a whole cane, which is also the most faithful product to those who were the standards in the market of umbrellas 200 years ago. So yes, the stick is the essence of the umbrella. The umbrella was born from the walking stick, we work with imported wood and Italian woods, so we have wood imported from Canada like maple, we have wood imported from South East Asia, we import bamboo from Japan. All the rods we import are plants took at level of water, because the cane is in an optimal condition to be cut and processed, because fresh and healthy. The more the plant grows the more it becomes fragile, so all our plants are uprooted, every single stick is a plant, but there is no problem about deforestation. Like the stick, even the metal parts we use come from suppliers we've been working with for years, they're not made from umbrella suppliers, but from a small company that makes brass. The fact that there are no more suppliers for umbrellas does not mean that no one is able to get the material, rather there is the challenge, the stimulus that led the company to evolve in some aspects. Another important thing that makes the product unique is the quality control, which takes place first with the choice of the right supplier, then the second check takes place when the components arrive in stock. Then the quality control is in every phase, in the way that the production of a handmade product allows you to follow him in every phase, the slats of an umbrella are meticulously threaded one by one.
Generational change. Is there something you get along with and something you do not?
Chino: I've been selling around the World for 53 years, and today they say you can avoid going to customers. We often have bickering regarding suppliers, etc.. We must also keep them good because if they are not there ... It's all like when my dad was here. Even my dad had relations only with one supplier, and I said: "But dad?" Once there were so many ... today instead we have one that makes polyester and one that makes cotton, and one of ours, which is an alpine with whom I have been working for 35 years, which respects us and continues to collaborate with our reality.
Francesco Jr: We discuss not only on suppliers, but also on many other things ... I would bring the Francesco Maglia brand through the internet, but Uncle still does not accept this kind of digitization so strongly.
What does the umbrella represent for you? What is the value that gives the object beyond its usefulness?
Chino: For me it is my whole life. I was going to pound the screws in Corso Genova when I was 10 years old, and I liked to watch my dad working. Then, when I finished the military, my dad asked me: "Is it okay for you?" And I replied "Yes", I came to the firm, and for me it's everything, it's part of me, sure it repairs me if it rains , but I would never go with an umbrella not mine. Rather risk of catching the rain!
Francesco Jr: Well for me it represents the history of the family, but without any doubts I have a more entrepreneurial vision of the company. I have been in it for too little time to have only an affective vision. For me, the dream is to turn it into an object of interest and perhaps sell the company in the future to a big group, having done an entrepreneurial job, keeping the management, keeping the brand name. The name is more important then the product itself. The product is just the tool to achieve the purpose.
Do not you agree so much on this?
Chino, Francesco Jr: Let's see, let's move on.
The umbrella is a product that recalls the past. How has the relationship with today's fashion changed? Is it good or bad?
Chino: The umbrella was born in the 1700s, but it was a sunshade for the ladies and it was a fashion item as could be a hat, a glove. Then a certain Englishman, Jonas Hanway, took a bigger umbrella and beeswax, and he went around London. There is even a vocabulary on the parasol because it depended on how the girl held it in her hand. It was a vocabulary to make your admirer knows if he could get out, if he could not. Charming. Yet there are still fans of umbrellas. Today, there are people who still have a culture regarding umbrellas, and want to have one. We are specialized on the whole cane, you can also do it with the metal rod, with leather. This is culture.
Francesco Jr: Today it is no longer an indispensable object. People have no problem catching the rain. In 1930, If you took water and got sick, you did not have all these medicines every time.
So it's a product a bit for nostalgics?
Chino: No, it's about culture. First in England ,umbrella was the symbol of the city, you saw people wearing a bowler hat, black shoes and umbrella. Today, the quality of umbrellas are dubious.
Francesco Jr: Our umbrella has become a niche product, because the niche is the market that distributes it, so the goal now is to change and lose a little that "snobbish" aspect of the product that only attracts the target of the luxury boutiques. Now, we want to address it to the whole population, because we have seen that through the internet we sell umbrellas to people even under 40 years old. Let's say that we need to change that super selective idea of the subject that brings our umbrella, but open it more to the global market.
Chino: I had more than 25 if not 30 umbrella shops between Austria and Germany. Today there are just 2 shops. All of them closed because there is no longer the umbrella shop, It could not survive. First in Milan there was a shop in Via Agnello that was the famous Rattazzi.
Different generations give different values to things. Did people lose a bit of attention from this product toward some other accessories?
Chino: No because or it is an umbrella or it is not an umbrella. This culture has collapsed, because of these umbrellas with prices of 90 cents made who knows where and then sold in Europe. We pay only 10 pins, 30 cents, 1/3 of the total cost of chinese umbrella (90 cents). So there is something that does not work ... In Italy then, we have the problem that no one cares for the cultures.
Where do you find the passion and creativity to always design something new?
Chino: I learnt from the experience and I fell in love with my job, because you're never stuck. Here in the company we do everything, my brother, him, me. Before, I took the car and traveled all over Europe doing more than 80,000 km a year, now I do not even do 30, because Italy is unfortunately no longer the market of the past.
Was there any unusual request from some customer?
Chino: One day a very famous British fashion company came and said: "We have to do an exhibition, you cut our raincoat to make an umbrella." Now it is displayed in their museum. Then we worked with Roberta Di Camerino, who was incredible. We made an umbrella with a carpet, we mounted it, but then you could not bend it, people looked at us everywhere! Moreover, a well-known businessman came to ask us to make a crocodile-covered umbrella. We refused to make it for him and he did it with another producer, ending up in all magazines in the world ... so maybe we had to do it. Each umbrella costs 35,000 euros.
An adjective to describe Italian?
Chino: It's very difficult. Our Made in Italy is a Made in Italy that maintains a tradition that has been going on for generations, from the raw material to the finished product. It is a sentimental Made in Italy totally based on the product, its characteristics and above all its quality are part of an emotional sphere, far from commercial!
Thanks to those who still dedicates its life to the authenticity of Made in Italy, like the Maglia family.