True Italian leather is to fashion what a Michelin star is to a restaurant, a sign of unbeatable quality and excellence. While produced around the world, nowhere makes leather quite like Italy. The historic city of Florence has long been associated with this highly prized export, but there’s more to the city than shops and markets peddling handmade goods. From the tanneries of Tuscany to the fascinating workshops in city’s back streets, discover the age-old art of Italian craftsmanship with this guide to the best places to buy leather in Florence.
While much of Florence’s leather craftsmanship takes place in the city, the material itself is prepared in Tuscan countryside. Between Florence and Pisa is the so-called ‘leather district’, which is full of tanneries where raw hides are preserved, dyed and transformed into beautiful, durable leather pieces ready for the artisans’ skilled hands. There are various methods of tanning, but in Tuscany many use the vegetable tanning method, a practice encouraged by the Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium. Those who are particularly interested in this procedure can visit select tanneries, such as Conceria Puccini.
Scuola del Cuoio
One of the best ways to learn about leather craftsmanship is to watch artisans at work at Florence’s school of leather, Scuola del Cuoio, located in the Monastery of Santa Croce. The monastery has been connected to the industry since the 13th century, when the surrounding area was an important leather-making district and local shops provided leather to bound its manuscripts. In the 1940s, the friars decided to revive the area’s traditions by creating a school and converting dormitories into workshops where students could work side-by-side with master craftsmen. It went on to become extremely successful, and many members of royal families (from England to Japan), politicians, and famous people have visited. When in Florence, make time to watch the experts and students at work and browse the handmade items on sale. Inspired visitors can even apply to take a course.
Pierotucci is one of the most celebrated Italian leather workshops in Florence. Since 1972, the company has been making elegant, quality, handmade bags, wallets and accessories that are coveted across the globe. Its reputation is so good that it has even produced designs for major brands such as Valentino, Dunhill and Fratelli Rossetti. However, Pierotucci isn’t just a boutique. Also a functioning workshop, visitors are invited to take a tour of the factory and learn all about the techniques and traditions that have been passed down between generations.
Leather gloves are a Florentine speciality, and nowhere makes them quite like Madova. Founded by Amedeo Donnini in 1919, during a time when long gloves up to the elbows were the height of women’s fashion, the workshop was originally an exclusive space for important families and clients. Nowadays, everyone can enjoy its creations but its traditions remain in the Donnini family. Currently run by the founder’s grandchildren, Madova is one of the only businesses in the city that makes just one item. Visit the tiny boutique, just a stone’s throw from the Ponte Vecchio, to discover its collection of premium hand-stitched gloves, cut from materials such as deerskin, calf or lamb nappa, and lined with cashmere, wool or silk for warmth.
San Lorenzo Market
Discover the breadth and diversity of Italian leather craftsmanship at San Lorenzo Market. Here, myriad leather-makers come together to showcase a wide array of wares from stylish handbags, gifts and accessories to premium leather jackets, coats and luggage cases. If you don’t see what you want, many of the stall owners have a shop or warehouse close by where you can discover an even greater collection. Make sure to check the labels so that you know you’re getting genuine handmade Italian leather.
Image credits: Leather artisans © Scuola del Cuoio, Glove shop © Madova