Move over boring black umbrellas. This monsoon is all about flaunting the shimmer and shine in your stylish fight against rains.

Be the maharani and flaunt a dazzling red satin parasol with dainty, diaphanous lace frills. Be Veerappan and strut around with that rifle-handled umbrella. At least, carry an ‘air-conditioned’ brolly. Being different is big deal, as the umbrella market is telling us. Every year, in the final weeks that run up to the monsoons — those grey days when schools reopen—the markets are lined with ingeniously designed umbrellas. This year is no different. Utilitarianism be damned, frills and folds are in, with a strong Chinese twist.

Chinese touch

The Chinese, it seems, do not wish to remain in history just as the inventors of the modern-day collapsible umbrella. They kept innovating, rolling out design after design in polka, stripes, checks and blacks with satin, nylon, plastic and what not!

The Kerala market, which sells about 1.5 crore umbrellas a year, is flooded by Chinese pieces that are relatively cheap yet irresistibly eye-candy. Shopkeepers in Ernakulam do not offer any guarantee, but vouch that they are the fastest moving. “It is mostly because the colours and designs are perfect for college students and the youth, in general,” says Anees Rahman who owns a store on Broadway. Most of his collection has been imported from China. “They have a better finish, as the ribs and the tubes are fibre-coated, and look classy. Also, they don’t rust quickly.”

The Chinese umbrellas that come in various sizes start at Rs. 80 for a small one (after a little bargaining with a roadside vendor) and go up to Rs. 750 for a large one. Since it is all about 'accessorising', frills and folds are the stuff to look out for. The prints are as varied as a picture book — rainbow colours, subtle geometric patterns and pleasing floral motifs that come along with sequins, thread and satin.

Just as one wonders how a satin umbrella can keep off the harsh Kerala monsoon, Unnikrishnan, a shop staffer, offers: “This is high-quality satin. Not the cheap ones with which you make dresses. It is highly durable,” pointing to a bright red Chinese umbrella. The medium-sized, fibre-coated brolly, which costs Rs. 280, has gauze-like frills and hearts of thread stitched to it. Golden sequins have been lavished upon the thread work. “These umbrellas are a rage, not many people go for the blacks anymore,” he adds.

While the material ranges from top-quality Nylon to plastic, the handles come in wacky designs. The must-have, as vendors point out, is the gun series with handles shaped like a gun. Pull the trigger and the umbrella opens in a grand flourish. Then comes the sword handle, which enables one to actually brandish an umbrella, not merely carry it. In fact, the Samurai-handle umbrella has been quite a hit across the world.

That is not to say the old-fashioned umbrellas are passe. The good-old grandfather umbrella or the kalan kuda seems to hold a perennial sway, especially among men. “Umbrellas, like, say specs and watches, have become an important accessory which conveys your style. The kalan kuda is big, sturdy and classy, so it is kind of macho or bold. And hey, you can also use it for self defence,” chuckles Jomon Varghese, a budding poet and short filmmaker.

While shops on Broadway rue that umbrella sales this year resembles a haphazard graph, the roadside vendors are making happy bucks with their Chinese ware, mostly procured from Mumbai. However, the Chinese influx has not left the desi players lagging behind. Indigenous brands have upped the ante, too, mostly diverting their energies to the children’s section. While Popy has announced water-spraying, music-playing, light-emitting umbrellas this year, Colombo is wooing children with whistles and a canopy adorned with prints of Barbie, Ben10 and Chotta Bheem. Johns, too, boasts a water-splashing range for kids. Even for adults, the variety delights. Light-weight, five-fold miniature umbrellas are the most sought-after. Colombo boasts the most expensive umbrella it has ever manufactured — with a battery-operated fan attached to it — priced at Rs. 2000. The batteries inserted into the space provided in the handle will activate the fan.

Whichever the brand be, the Chinese yet again take the cake. The Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation website states that despite the product innovations, the industry depends on raw materials from Taiwan and China. The imported tubes and cloth are assembled in factories in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.