Would You Be Caught Wearing This?

NEW YORK — Want to keep dry? Willing to sacrifice some of your dignity to do it?

A new kind of umbrella promises to keep you drier while you fiddle with your cell phone, handbag or briefcase.

The Nubrella is a big plastic dome that rests on your shoulders. While it keeps you dry through the strongest rain storm, that level of weather protection comes at a cost: Let's just call it the dorkiness factor.

The new-style umbrella looks like something out of a bad science fiction movie.

When I first saw a photo of it, I was intrigued and decided to test it out for myself. So during the first April rainstorm that came my way, I headed out on the streets of Manhattan.


Immediately people's heads turned. I was instantly the center of attention — not an easy feat on a busy New York street.

But I wasn't so sure this was the kind of attention I wanted.

There were laughs, a lot of smiles and a few comments that I'm sure were not so flattering. Of course, with a big plastic dome over my head it was hard to tell if they thought I was cool or just a fool.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I could have sworn I heard Jerry Seinfeld laughing at me, saying: "He's a bubble boy."

What did I care? I was dry and the dome kept my body heat close. Besides, looks aren't everything, and as my kindergarten teacher always used to remind me: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

And for every two people who mocked me, there was somebody who came rushing over wanting to know more about the umbrella and where they could get one.

"To be quite honest, I would have to get quite used to putting something like this on my head," passerby William Redman told me. "It is a little weird, but it is extremely functional.

"People are afraid of new things. They are used to their old habits," Redman added. But, "if it was pouring rain, everybody would want one of those."

And that's exactly what Nubrella inventor and CEO Alan Kaufman hopes will happen.

"This industry needs some innovation," Kaufman said. "The umbrella hasn't changed in 3,000 years."

Kaufman, once a semi-professional tennis player, used to own some cell phone stores. One miserable, rainy day he "just happened to look out the window watching people as they fought with their umbrellas."

"Out of nowhere an image just came into my head," Kaufman said. "I never invented anything prior."

After five years of research and design, the Nubrella was ready for sale. Kaufman says that unlike most umbrellas, his invention won't flip over in high winds — even winds as strong as 50 mph.

But don't expect the Nubrella to take over the streets of a city near year anytime soon; Kaufman said he sold about 400 umbrellas in the last month. They cost $59.94 with shipping and handling. He is not doing any advertising right now, instead relying on word-of-mouth and media reports to sell the product from his Web site. (Kaufman also said the Nubrella will be in retailer Hammacher Schlemmer's Father's Day catalog.)

(photo courtesy Nubrella)

"My concept on this thing: it's not invented or intended to replace the umbrella but rather to be a new item in people's arsenal of weather-protection gears. They own boots, gloves, coats, scarves, hats and umbrellas," Kaufman said. "I kind of compare it to owning a heavier coat."

I let passerby Papa Guuie try on the Nubrella.

"Ooooh, this thing is cool," he said. "It might make me look goofy, but if it keeps me dry, I'd use it."

And how did I look with it on? Really stupid?

"Kind of," Guuie said. "I look better."

But not everybody was as kind.

Eric Weinberg told me: "I think you look a little ridiculous."

He also said I looked "a little sweaty."

That was one of the downsides I found to the Nubrella. While it might keep you nice and toasty on a frigid day, on a warm humid one it only added to my discomfort.

I had feared that because of its size I might bump into people. But that fear was quickly alleviated. Folks see you coming and quickly clear a path.

But Weinberg was still hesitant to even try on the Nubrella.

"Would this limit the possibility of me meeting a girlfriend or meeting a wife? I'd say surely," Weinberg said.

Claudia Kun did try it on.

"Wow. I feel like a goldfish … in a little bowl," she said.

Kun also liked the idea that it wouldn't mess up her hair.

But was that enough of an incentive to wear it through the city streets?

"Not if I'm the only one wearing it because everybody would look at me weird," Kun said.

Kaufman acknowledges that maybe some people will feel a bit self-conscious.

"But on the day you are probably going to want to use this, I can guarantee you … people aren't going to be out there looking at you to see what you look like," he said. "They are more going to be dealing with protecting themselves with their umbrella."

Spike Fuson didn't care how he looked with the Nubrella on. He had fun playing with it and said the device reminded him of the Cone of Silence from the 1960s TV show "Get Smart."

But it really doesn't matter what Fuson thinks about the umbrella.

"I'm from Las Vegas, Nevada," he said. "We never use those."