Why waste a fashion-forward umbrella on a dreary rainy day? Instead call it a parasol and show off the beautiful colors, fabrics and embroideries that have become a part of umbrella design.
Sun umbrellas are enjoying a moment in the, er, sun. Parasols were on the runways for several spring collections, and celebrities, including Marcia Cross on the set of "Desperate Housewives," have been photographed holding them.
It seems a growing awareness of the damage caused by the sun has helped make an old-fashioned affectation hip again.
For spring, Totes-Isotoner made satin sun umbrellas, sun umbrellas in Asian-inspired floral prints and sun umbrellas with bold graphics. They are parasols because they provide sunshade, but they're not the romantic and nostalgic lacy ones that people immediately think of when you say the word, says Ann Headley, director of Totes-Isotoner's rain product development.
Those do exist, Headley says, just in a much smaller quantity.
Fashion designer Anna Sui makes a strong case for the parasol as an objet d'art. She's put them on the runway at least four times, including the fashion show for the current spring collection. A model matched her turquoise-and-black print blouse to her turqoise-and-black print parasol.
Tracy Reese and Temperley London also made style statements with parasols this season.
Sui works with a licensee to make umbrellas, and she says the parasols always sell out of her Manhattan store. She can't recall ever carrying one on the street, but an elaborate one from India with mirrors and appliques hangs in her bedroom.
It provides the necessary drama as a prop, but it's also a traditional sunshade, especially in India, China and Japan, as well as in the Old South, when the real-life equivalents of Scarlett O'Hara would use one to keep her skin from freckling, Sui says.
Cross, who is known for her porcelain skin, explains her use of a sun umbrella on the set: "I have moments when I can't wear a hat or if my hair is done. If they've done my hair, they're not thrilled if I throw my hat on," she says with a laugh.
Right now, hats and sunscreen are the core of Cross' sun-protection routine but she says a parasol "might be something in my future."
"I've seen people use the parasol and I think I might check it out," Cross says. "I was on a hike and saw an Asian woman with one and she looked great."
And they seem to be gaining in celebrity appeal. Among the stars photographed with assistants holding umbrellas for them in the sun are Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Michael Jackson. Rihanna even has a new umbrella (ella, ella) line for Totes.
The modern sun umbrella is coated with UV protection, blocking 98 percent of ultraviolet rays, Headley says. It also often has a waterproofing treatment so the umbrella can be used in the sun and the rain. "Most consumers, unless they're in a hot climate and find a parasol they love, they want an umbrella they'd want to use either way," she says.
Headley notes that dark umbrellas will do a better job blocking sunlight than a light colored one if neither has the UV treatment. "It's just like a white T-shirt vs. a black T-shirt. If you're in intense sun, the sun will get through light colors," she says.
She thinks you're seeing more parasols because of the increased awareness about sun damage to the skin.
"They're less and less a commodity. They're a real lifestyle thing these days. People look for function and fashion in their umbrellas," Headley says.