Leather at First Sight: Shopping in Florence

Illustration by Explore Magazine

We were about to start our dinner when the notion of love at first sight was brought up. Our group went around the kitchen and shared their views, which ranged from a resounding rejection of the entire theory to a sweet and serendipitous how-we-met story.

When it was my turn, I shared my love-at-first-sight story, which went something like this:

It was early spring in Florence and I was strolling through Santa Croce. Weaving through a dizzying number of vendors and enticed by the pervasive smell of fresh leather, I turned a corner and felt Cupid’s arrow pierce my heart when I saw the most beautiful tan attache case I had ever seen.

The same groan you just made was also echoed by my dinner party friends. But what my friends are privy to is that same bag has been with me for more than a decade. To know me is to know that bag, as it’s practically an extension of my body. I use it every day for work and when I travel. It has held laptops that are now obsolete, yet this bag gets better with age.

So, whenever you’re in Florence next, be sure to keep your eyes wide open and get ready to fall in love.

Finding Love

There are so many places to buy leather in Florence, from luxury boutiques, to busy street bazaars, to private workshops. One of my personal favorite shops is Pierotucci (via Lungo L’Ema 17, Ponte a Ema, Florence). You can easily find it, as it’s only a few minutes from the city center. But its convenient location is only the beginning. Here, they hand craft right in front of your eyes. You are literally invited into their workshop with their master craftsman, where you can watch skilled Italian artisans cut and assemble leather bags, jackets and accessories. They have been producing leather bags and accessories since 1972.

You also have not one, but two bustling outdoor markets to choose from. The San Lorenzo Market boasts a variety of street vendors and retail stores selling leather items. The beautiful Mercato Nuovo, which has operated as an outdoor marketplace since the Renaissance, also overflows with bags, belts, and other leather goods. If you’re a savvy negotiator, you should put your skills to good use here. You will also need to use your expert skills of distinguishing higher quality leather to ensure you make a purchase that is as long-lasting as my attache case.

Match Maker

If you need a little help finding your love-at-first-sight item, here are a few suggestions from Italy Magazine to keep in mind when buying Florentine leather:

Aroma. The item should smell musky and natural. Steer clear of anything that smells like chemicals.

Suppleness. The leather should feel smooth, supple, and soft, not stiff.

Color. The highest quality natural leather in tan or brown can stand on its own, without any added color, to reveal the natural grain. Dyes often mask lesser quality leather.

Stitching. The stitching should be tight and regular, with small stitches sewn close together.

Wherever you decide to shop, remember that Florentine artisans are masters of the made-to-measure. From jackets to shoes, you’ll find unparalleled opportunities to not only go home with an exquisite leather piece made just for you, but also to make a connection with the person whose labor and passion went into crafting your very personal memento.

Not to be Missed

During your visit of Florence, see the breathtaking Basilica di Santa Croce and continue your walk out of the church’s gift shop directly into the Scuola del Cuoio or School of Leather. This institution will take you beyond the endless rows of leather purses and jackets flapping in the wind at the leather markets, and give you a glimpse at the technique, the skills, and the talent that goes into leather production in Florence. This extraordinary place is a collective of genuine artists where you can witness these artisans create the leather goods in the midst of centuries-old history.

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