French umbrella manufacturer Veritable Cherbourg has unveiled a range of defense umbrellas straight out of a James Bond movie. President Nicolas Sarkozy's security detail has already put in an order for these high-tech gizmos.
It might look like an umbrella, but this is no ordinary umbrella. It protects its users not just from rain and hail, but also from stones, knives, fire and even acid attacks. The Parapactum, as this extraordinary umbrella is called, was unveiled last week at the Made in France show in Paris, and has already been adopted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's personal security detail.
The umbrella is manufactured by Véritable Cherbourg (Real Cherbourg), a small company of 12 employees created 15 years ago in the Normandy region of Contentin in northwestern France. It is one the last remaining umbrella makers left in France. Most of the four million umbrellas purchased each year in France are now made in China.
But Jean-Pierre Yvon, a former photographer and businessman, decided to take his chances anyway. He chose the beginning of the Chinese manufacturing invasion to set up a French umbrella plant in Cherbourg from scratch, which he financed by selling his family's luxurious town house.
"It's always raining and windy in Cherbourg," says this unorthodox businessman. "So I wanted to create an umbrella as famous as Burberry's, and focus on quality rather than volume." He sells 10,000 to 15,000 umbrellas each year, for a turnover close to one million euros ($1.4 million). Handmade and elegant, and most importantly, resistant to the fiercest gust of wind, each item is sold at prices ranging between 100 and 350 euros ($150-500).
Like any other quality brand, Véritable Cherbourg has its fans and loyal buyers in France and globally as far afield as Japan. The company has long been supplying the presidential Elysée Palace with golf umbrellas. It was only natural then for Jean-Pierre Yvon and his son Charles, a graduate in physics, to answer the call of the French state's Technical Center for Interior Security to develop a model designed to protect dignitaries.
Jean-Pierre Yvon invested around 200,000 euros ($284,000) and won the support of the state-backed entrepreneurial fund the Oséo. The Parapactum took more than a year of research and has been tested to withstand winds of up to 168 km/h (104 miles). There were setbacks: "Every time I demonstrated a prototype, it would not open or would break," he recalls.
The special materials used in the production of the umbrella were developed with companies working in the defense industry and are top secret. French authorities have already ordered a dozen Parapactums at about 6,000 and 12,000 euros ($8,500-$17,000) a pop, depending on the design.
Read the original article in French
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