Umbrellas in Rain or Shine

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The East Side umbrella shop specializes in keeping you protected from all the elements

By Laura Shanahan

Between the twin plagues of global warming and the torrential rains we've had of late, it seems a toss-up as to whether we're in more imminent danger of baking or drowning. What's a girl or guy to do?

Well, you can always invest in a good umbrella. The streets, as you may've noticed, were littered with the skeletons of those cheapo street-vendor versions during recent storms ? and how cheap are they really when you have to keep investing five bucks or whatever for never-ending one-time uses?

As for the blazing sun, there's always the time-honored solution of a parasol. A parasol, you ask? Are we in Victorian England?

No, dear readers, today we are in ? a drum-roll, please ? Rain or Shine, the only store of its kind in the city, the country and maybe even the planet. Located at 45 E. 45th St., this charming boutique stocks nothing but the finest top-of-the-line umbrellas, parasols and canes. These aren't just fashionable and exceptionally well-made models ? many are downright works of art. Not to get all ruffian about it, but you'd probably sooner beat someone over the head for trying to swipe one of the umbrellas you can purchase here than allow them to borrow it.

"These are very high-quality brands that we carry," says manager Lou Cruz. She and proprietor Peggy Levee, along with a skilled gentleman who will repair any umbrella the store sells, make up the trio generally in attendance.

The brands carried are, indeed, top of the line: Fox, Chantal Thomass, Francesco Maglia, Guy de Jean and Pierre Vaux are but a sprinkling of the names represented. Fine fabrics, handcrafting and rare woods ? the last, as Cruz pointed out, is especially significant in price differentials ? are among the hallmarks of many of the items stocked.

Fox is a venerable British brand since 1868, and Cruz said the make's particularly popular basic-black men's model featuring a curved crook handle crafted of white chestnut wood ? "very rare," Cruz said, noting that the $320 brolly is "one of the best sellers."

Another men's version by Fox features a wealth of colors ? choose from forest, royal, rich red and more ? and has the same classic crook handle, this one made of Malacca wood, and a more modest price tag: $185.

The lightweight and lovely ladies' parasols are not only fabulous fashion accessories, they're uber-practical, offering UV protection, as well as waterproofing against any sudden sprinkles. A Guy de Jean fold-up version is a vision in pale blue, hemmed with a generous pour of boa-like fluff; $85. Pierre Vaux's bamboo-handled "stick" (non fold-up) beige parasol is richly embellished with ribbon-striped net topped with white floral embroidery; $225. And in umbrellas, a Guy de Jean fold-up model is as flirty as some of the parasols, featuring a profusely ruffled trim ? color choices include a lovely lavender, white, two shades of red, chocolate and much more; $80.

Truly handsome canes include (saddle up, we're going really high-end here) a German-made number with a sterling silver-plated crook handle atop an ebony shaft; $960.

But perhaps like me, you'd prefer the Italian-made $128 Biancardi International model topped instead with a creamily iridescent faceted mother-of-pearl ball that I can gaze at forever.

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