Queen Elizabeth likes things to match. For decades, she's meticulously coordinated her coats, hats, dresses, and more, achieving a level of tonal continuity unachievable by most. But the Queen is not one to settle, and in her quest for monochrome excellence, she's (relatively) recently found a new frontier: matching her umbrellas to her outfits.
For the past 15-odd years, the British monarch has been sporting umbrellas that perfectly pair with her looks. It's a subtle feat that, upon closer examination, raises several questions. How did she obtain these color-matched accessories? How many does she have? Who is responsible for creating this rainbow of umbrellas?
The answer to the latter is pretty simple. Fulton, a U.K. umbrella brand, is the Queen's go-to source for rainy day necessities. The Queen inherited her interest in Fulton's wares, as such things are often passed down: she got it from her mother. (That's the Queen Mother to you.)
Back in 1988, the Queen Mother's secretary rang up Fulton, searching for the clear domed umbrella that the brand had pioneered. The style, dubbed the "Birdcage," had gone out of production due to a lag in sales, but Fulton was quick to accommodate the royal's request. "[We] would be very happy to put it back into production if the Queen Mother wants it,'" current CEO Nigel Fulton—the son of the former CEO—recalled his father replying.
That eventually lead to a royal warrant from the Queen Mother, and in 2003, to supplying umbrellas to the Queen—although the monarch had previously managed to procure some Birdcage umbrellas on her own. "She was asking her staff to go buy them in the department store or something," Fulton said.
Once they began receiving orders directly from the Queen, they could tailor the umbrellas to her liking. Unsurprisingly, color was an important factor. "We match the colors to the Queen’s outfit, and that’s the key with this umbrella," Fulton explained.
Each umbrella is custom ordered well in advance. The royal household communicates the desired color to Fulton, often through a fabric swatch. Fulton then turns around and makes prototypes; once approved, the final umbrellas are manufactured to the Queen's specifications. (The colored strip near the rim of the umbrella, for example, is made thinner to suit the monarch's taste.)
It seems that the Queen always has the perfect umbrella to suit her outfit. So does she have one made for every look, just in case it rains? After all, that is a very real concern in the U.K. "[The Queen] hates wastage," Fulton said. "So no, she would never buy a whole load of umbrellas and not use them. Never. It’s not the way she operates at all." As she's been ordering them since 2003, it isn't surprising that she's amassed a rainbow of options, regardless.
In 2009, a year after the company was granted a royal warrant from the Queen, Fulton received a welcome reward for his work. The monarch decided to visit the company's factory along with the Duke of Edinburgh, and by all accounts, the event lived up to expectations. "It was just the most magical experience," Fulton said. "I mean, you know, with all the royal fanfare that came along… So she arrived with a police escort in the royal Bentley car. There was a royal admiral dressed in uniform opening the car door... And it was a very surreal experience to be walking next to the Queen, talking about umbrellas. It was like a dream almost... Everyone in our company will remember forever, obviously."
And the Queen herself? "She’s an absolutely charming woman," Fulton said. "What struck me was she must meet hundreds if not thousands of people a year, and yet to be so genuinely interested in what we were doing was just so humbling, in a way."
Absolutely charming, indeed.
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