Jamie Milestone launched London Undercover in 2008 with the aim to turn around the umbrella and return to its rightful position as a fashion accessory. With the celebration of Britishness at the core, London Undercover brings to life what is generally perceived as a boring, disposable, last-minute item. Here, the founder behind the brand tells us why going into the business of umbrellas was a “dreadful choice” (at the time), his recent collaboration with Monocle, and why, at the end of the day, the umbrella is the most quintessentially British object.
Life+Times: You launched London Undercover in 2009. What was the mission behind your company?
Jamie Milestone: The main aim was to make the umbrella more desirable and more than just an afterthought. It is an item that everyone needs to own, there’s no need to carry around a cheap, badly made one. It is an accessory. It can complete a look and there’s no reason for it not to be less important than a pair of shoes or a smart jacket.
L+T: Why umbrellas? Why was this something that you wanted to shine the spotlight on?
JM: The umbrella is the most quintessentially British object. We’re renowned for them, yet in reality the choice was dreadful. It was a dying trade here and I wanted to change that and bring some life to it.
L+T: I know that the craftsmanship behind umbrellas runs in your family. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
JM: It was actually not something I was aware of until after I’d set up the brand. Someone in my family mentioned that they were pretty sure there was a history. After looking into it, it turned out my great great grandfather was an umbrella cane maker in Shoreditch, East London in the 1800’s. We’re pretty sure he was linked with our current factory in the same area. It’s an amazing coincidence.
L+T: What differentiates your company from other umbrella companies? What makes your products stand out?
JM: I think the most important thing is we give our items a fresh approach. We try and maintain the classic nature and quality of the umbrella but with a modern context. We are constantly trying new things which at times can be a bit out there but it’s important for brands to push things a little and have a sense of humour. Although our products seem quite expensive, we really try very hard to make them accessible to everyone and we do keep the price as low as we can without compromising on quality.
L+T: Your designs certainly stand out – what men of the past have inspired your designs?
JM: Inspiration comes from a variety of places. Music is a very big influence. It can open you up to so many things. From a fashion sense it is probably any of the British bands or artists like The Who, The Kinks, David Bowie, The Jam. Men who have taken pride in their appearance with a British flavor. The Mod thing was quite important in contemporizing tailoring and bringing life to woven pattern & detail. I also find the Royal Family quite interesting. The Duke of Windsor was an incredibly smart gentleman. Everything was considered. His attention to detail was second to none.
L+T: You’ve collaborated with a bunch of different brands – including Monocle. How do you choose what companies to collaborate with?
JM: If it means we can introduce our product to a new market and a customer that might not have considered buying a good umbrella before then it’s a company worth collaborating with. I like working with brands that share a similar customer but it’s amazing to see a positive response from working with someone completely different. We do get a lot of requests for collaborations because we give all our products a different angle and brands get excited about what we could work out with them. I feel that we’ve probably done too many and I’d really like to concentrate on our own products, but it’s very difficult to say no to people you really admire.
L+T: What’s your long-term goal for London Undercover?
JM: I want it to be widely known that a London Undercover is THE umbrella to buy. I want us to be at the top of our game at all times. Always bringing out new & interesting products and putting stuff out there because we want to.
L+T: What are you currently working on now?
JM: The new Autumn/Winter collection is going into production. We’ll release that early in Japan as their rainy season is earlier in the East. We’re just about to start designing for Spring/Summer 14 and we’re also working on our own retail base. The phone rings every day with people asking where the store is and at the moment, we can’t give them an answer. That is key for us and I can’t wait to open the first store.