I am a former journalist and editor, currently writing fiction for adults and children. Visit my website at www.karengrikitis.wordpress.com.
Published August 28th 2014
Elegant, hand-made umbrellas that will last you a lifetime
There aren't many high-end, luxury goods stores I can walk into and not feel intimidated by the staff, who look at you as if to say "don't even bother looking; there's no way you can afford any of this stuff." Well, there are always exceptions to the rule and James Smith & Sons on New Oxford Street, is a case in point.
The staff in this beautiful, historic store, with its Victorian frontage and elegant interior, welcome all and sundry to browse the colourful array of hand-made umbrellas, parasols and sticks, which adorn every inch of its premises.
James Smith & Sons have been making ladies and gents umbrellas since 1830 and, as you can imagine, these are made of much sterner stuff than your average, high-street brolly, which collapses or breaks with the first powerful gust of wind. Strong, steel frames stretched with fabric in a variety of colours and materials are supported on shafts that come in a range of lengths, some with crooks made of cane or wood, others with straight or animal-head handles. They also make folding brollies, and if you don't see exactly what you are looking for on display, they will make one to order in their workshops downstairs, ready for collection in four weeks.
These umbrellas will probably last you a lifetime, and their prices reflect this, ranging from about £75 upwards. I treated myself to a peacock blue, 'pencil' length umbrella with beechwood crook handle and wrist strap. They also make wonderful gifts.
The shop assistant, who was charming, told me they have had customers coming back after 10 years asking for something to be repaired or for a change of canopy fabric, whom they are only too happy to oblige.
Even if you don't wish to buy anything, it is worth making the five-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road underground station for a spot of window shopping, as the display of umbrellas is a visual delight.