Shopping in Florence is a historian’s delight. Artisans practice the craft their family has perfected over centuries. You can stop by their workshops and see them in action. At numerous markets throughout the city, vendors honor their city’s past selling at outdoor stalls as merchants did long ago. Stores that have been around for ages offer timeless treasures. Shopkeepers sell marbled paper, ceramics, leather, and mosaics—products for which the city is famous. Florentine artists set up shop in piazzas throughout town. Savvy shoppers may purchase a work of art from the next Michelangelo, a pair a shoes from the next Salvatore Ferragamo, or a handbag from the next Guccio Gucci. With stores and markets integrated into the fabric of the old city, shopping in Florence is easy to fit into a day of sightseeing.
Home to some of the world’s finest fashion and accessory houses, Florence is also a global fashion capital. Italian high fashion started in Florence in the early 1950s when Giovanni Battista Giorgini organized a runway show at Villa Torrigiani (now it’s held at Palazzo Pitti). Thanks to this show, the fashion world became to relate goods made in Italy as synonymous with high quality.
For centuries Florence has been known for its fine fabrics, but today many people flock there for its leather.
There are many good leather shops around town. Some specialize in leather jackets, some in gloves (look at Madova Gloves on via Guicciardini), and many feature handbags. This was the city where famed designers of leather goods—Gucci and Ferragamo—got their start.
I love handbags. Supple, soft leather brings me a special thrill. I collect handbags keeping them in pristine condition, storing them in their dust bags, and carrying them with the same gentle care you would a newborn. Much of my time in Florence then is spent looking at handbag retailers and deciding which new “baby” will be adopted to come home and join my collection.
One of my favorite experiences is when I can see products being made, so I like going to the Leather School (Scuola del Cuoio) at Basilica di Santa Croce. Behind the church, artisans make magic out of bolts of leather. Upstairs from the workshop are showrooms filled with leather goods. Leather jackets, handbags, briefcases, belts, boxes, frames, journals, agendas, and much more are crafted out of the finest calfskin. Their purses are exquisite and remind one of some of the designs from the finest fashion houses. I’ve purchased a couple leather and silver bracelets which adorn my wrist quite frequently. I also have an adorable little leather coin purse and some other leather miscellany like a bookmark that I just adore.
Next time I’m there I plan to order a handbag!
The Leather School was founded after World War II by the brothers of Santa Croce and the Casini and Gori families. They wanted to give orphans of the war a means to support themselves by teaching them a trade. Since the 13th century, the area around the church of Santa Croce had been known for its tanneries so it was a perfect fit.
The first students were orphans from Pisa who were taught how to make briefcases and handbags. Those who were gifted learned how to make jewel cases gilded with gold and other fine leather objects. By the 1950s, the school started to gain renown and President Dwight Eisenhower ordered a leather desk set. Throughout the decades many famous people have ordered its goods or visited the artisan workshop.
You can visit today for a formal tour of the workshop or just see what is going on as you pass by the artisans on your way to the store. They still teach the art and one can enroll in a class for a fully immersive experience in leather working.
Although I find the making of the product fascinating, I prefer to just enjoy the hard work of others and shop at the store. You can do so in person when you’re next in Florence, or from your home via their online store. Their website has gorgeous purses, frames, journals, belts, and even the bookmarks I love so much.
Scuola del Cuoio Website: https://scuoladelcuoio.it/en/
Florence has a great leather heritage. Throughout the city vendors hawk their wares, whether from glitzy storefronts on via de’Tornabouni or under a tent on the street in San Lorenzo. Although at some places you may not be sure of the authenticity or quality of the product, you can find a beautifully made product with the finest leather at Scuola del Cuoio that you know was “Made in Italy” and handcrafted on site. Happy shopping!
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