The Italian craftsman who makes umbrellas for actors and popes
In Pursuit of Rare is a new series telling the stories of the master makers who deal in the most precious things on earth.
Mario Talarico has been making umbrellas for 75 years. The fourth generation of a family of umbrella makers, he grew up surrounded by them. "They say that opening umbrellas [indoors] is bad luck. If that was the case, I would have died before I was born!"
At 87 years old, he still works every day alongside his nephew, who now owns the family shop. His name is also Mario Talarico.
"My uncle is a great boss," explained his nephew. "The best thing about working for him is it's like a theater."
In their bustling workshop, tucked away on a small alley in Naples, Italy, each bespoke umbrella is crafted by hand. Made with carefully selected materials, the process can take around five months, from start to finish.
'We have more customers than umbrellas'
Before it can be worked on, the wood for the sticks has to be dried (which takes around 15 days) and curved using a steaming technique (which takes approximately four months). The wood is curved in batches, around 600 at a time, so they always have materials to work with. But sometimes demand is still too high. "We have more customers than umbrellas," Talarico (senior) commented.
Once the materials are ready it takes, on average, six to seven hours to make the final umbrella.
"When I make an umbrella, I kiss it like a son, because I'm never going to see it again. I can't make another one like the one I've made," Talarico (senior) explained.
While the shop itself also sells cheaper, imported umbrellas to satisfy the more basic needs of passing customers, a hand-made Talarico umbrella can cost from €55 ($63) to €600 ($684), with some of their special commissions having been known to cost over €20,000 (approximately $23,000).
But depending on the materials involved, the price could reach any number.
'My job is my life'
Though the Talaricos prefer not to disclose the names of their most famous clients, the list includes actors, politicians and two popes.
The best way to buy a Talarico umbrella? Visit in person. Though they have a few selected vendors around the world they are not widely available, not even selling through their own website.
"I don't want others to compete with me. My nephew and I made some umbrellas and we decided not to add them onto our website, because others can copy us," explained Talarico (senior).
Having spent his life dedicated to the craft of umbrella making, the older Mario Talarico seems in no hurry to slow down.
"My job is my life. It's my joy, my wealth. What could possibly be better than making something and being told, 'what a masterpiece!'"
Watch the video above to find out more.