PARIS - Easily broken and frequently lost, the humble umbrella is not usually seen as a luxury item. But for Frenchman Michel Heurtault, whose creations can sell for thousands of euros, that is exactly what they are.
The 48-year-old artisan uses the finest of materials for his umbrellas and parasols, which are made to last and intended to be handed down from generation to generation.
Despite his high prices, Heurtault's Paris shop attracts clients from around the world - one Qatari princess went for an umbrella handle covered with shagreen, a type of leather, at a cost of more than 8,000 euros (US$10,800, S$13 500).
"Umbrellas have always been my passion," he says with a smile.
"They were my favourite toy when I was small. I was fascinated - which my mother found very strange!" he says, recalling how he used to take them apart, using parts from two to build a single umbrella.
Heurtault only set up his business in 2008, but some of his tools are more than 100 years old. The setting is also special, in one of the elegant 19th-century arches under a former railway viaduct in eastern Paris housing many chic shops of skilled artisans
"All those umbrellas are made in China," he says as he watches pedestrians pass by the shop on a wet autumn day.
"Here, everything is done by hand, which is unique," says Heurtault, who also restores umbrellas and creates them for the film industry.
Heurtault's business partner Jean-Yves Thibert says Australians and Japanese are "gaga for parasols", while umbrellas have a following in the United States and Europe, particularly in Austria and Germany.