Italian Leather


Italian leather has been famous for its quality and durability since the Middle Ages.

There are important "rules" to keep in mind when considering purchasing a leather jacket, bag, or pair of shoes during your next trip to Italy. Here are a few tips and guidelines to ensure you are choosing a top-quality leather product that will last for years.

florence-leather-6

One of the most important details to pay attention to when buying leather in Italy is the QUALITY of the leather itself. Leather is made from animal hide, and hide is composed of a series of organic layers that are mechanically separated during the curing and tanning process. The resulting types of leather are classified in a number of different quality categories:
  • Full-Grain (piano fiore): this is considered the finest quality leather, made from the outermost layer of hide and prized for being both soft and durable, retaining a pleasant leather scent, and developing a deep color and natural sheen over time. 
  • Top-Grain (cuoio di grano): this middle category of leather is also made from the top layer of hide with the natural imperfections and pores sanded out to create a more even finish. Most bags and wallets are made of this quality of leather, and the difference between pieno fiore and parte grano or cuoio di grano is subtle and not always clearly marked.
  • Genuine (vera pelle): this is the lowest quality of leather, made from the inner layer of hide left over after the two higher grades of leather layers have been stripped away. Most inexpensive leather items are made from vera pelle or vero cuoio, often consisting of layers of low quality leather glued together and dyed to resemble more prized leather. 
  • AVOID: Bonded (cuoio rigenerato) this leather is the result of the leftovers of the leather-making process - leather dust, shavings, and excess pieces - that have been swept up and pressed together in the factory with the aid of various chemicals, dyes, and glues -Yuck! Be careful: bonded leather is often spray-painted to resemble natural leather grain. Your nose will tell you whether the piece smells like a cow or Superglue.
  • AVOID: Imitation (simipelle or ecopelle) steer clear of imitation leather (unless you want "leather" that isn't made from an animal).
Whether you are shopping in a boutique, an artisan workshop, or a street market stall (the differences below), you can easily judge the quality of both the leather and the handiwork by following these guidelines:
  • Touch: quality leather has a soft, buttery feel, smooth to the touch and not stiff or papery. 
  • Smell: leather should have a pleasant, earthy aroma that smells rich and natural. Any leather that smells of glue or chemicals is not of very high quality and will not stand up to the test of time. 
  • Look
    • First, check the color. Highest quality natural leather has a deep golden brown color and natural grain that gives it texture and depth. Dyed leathers add variety with fashionable colors, but be sure that they are not being used to mask lower-quality leather. Examine any unfinished edges to see if the dye has been absorbed through all the layers of the hide, or just painted on the surface. 
    • Second, check the stitching and finishing. Stitches should be small and regular, and any finishing touches like zippers, buckles, or studs of the highest quality. 
  • Talk: Italy's skilled artisans and high-end shops are proud of their unbeatable leather, and will go to great lengths to demonstrate the texture and meticulous handiwork of each piece. A trustworthy seller will be the first to urge you to check the quality by touching, smelling, and looking until you are satisfied with your purchase.
Be prepared to pay
  • Money: Italian leather is not cheap, especially quality Italian leather. I know, we have all heard that you're going to find the BEST leather in Italy for CHEAP. Well, "best" and "cheapest" RARELY go together. That said, the finest Italian leather shoes, bags, or jackets can last for years, so it makes for an excellent investment. But be prepared to spend some dough. Buying directly from an artisan or small, specialized shop is where you will get the most bang for your buck. Luxury brands add a hefty fee for that prestigious name on your bag or jacket, and larger, retail shops generally carry industrially produced goods of lesser quality.
  • Time: you're going to see plenty of products that you love, but it takes a little more time to make sure you are getting the highest quality at the best price. Often, you can find excellent quality artisan pieces that are less expensive and more carefully made than their designer look-alikes. Or the same leather shop may carry both artisan and industrial goods, of very different craftsmanship or quality. Or the same piece may be sold by a high-end boutique and a modest leather shop at different prices. Spend a bit of time to do some window shopping before making a purchase, and you're less likely to have buyer's regret. 
Where to shop

While traveling through Italy, you can find quality leather goods across the country; but there are three main leather-producing sectors, each offering a different experience and level of expertise.
  1. Artisans: there are a surprising number of independent leather workshops still open for business across Italy. Florence, of course, has the highest concentration of these specialized shops, but you can find them along the narrow pedestrian lanes in towns on the Amalfi Coast, on the hilltops in Umbria and Tuscany, and even off the beaten path in Venice. These master craftspeople make stunning, one-of-a-kind shoes, bags, gloves, and other accessories and you can often watch as they cut, sew, and hand-finish their pieces. If you are looking for a custom bag or a pair of shoes made to order, try an artisan workshop.
  2. Luxury boutiques: Italy's luxury brands also produce fine-quality leather goods, though their value lies in the prestigious name in addition to the quality of the leather and the craftsmanship. Much of the production, from preparing the leather to the cutting and stitching of clothing and accessories, is sub-contracted to small or medium companies in the industrial leather sector (see below), though skilled artisans often take care of the meticulous final touches in house for the brand. Stop in a designer boutique if you love the chic look of Italian design, but also value quality that can last a lifetime. 
  3. Industrial production: most Italian leather jackets, bags, shoes, and other accessories sold in shops in Italy and around the world are made by small and medium-sized companies specialized in combining traditional Italian quality and style with modern, large-scale production. Many of these leather companies are located in central Italy, primarily Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, and clothing and shoe shops that are neither artisan workshops nor high-end boutiques generally sell items made by this thriving industrial sector. This is where you can get trendy, fashionable pieces that are of acceptable quality but won't break the bank.
A note about street markets: though it is fun to stroll through street markets, especially the famous San Lorenzo market in Florence, the quality of the leather goods sold there is often dubious. Take a walk through to get an idea of styles and prices, then head to an artisan workshop or specialty store to purchase from a reputable source.

The best shops in Florence:


Benheart
Via della Vigna Nuova, 97r; 055/2399483
Via dei Cimatori, 25r; 055/0462638.
Dimitri Villoresi Bags
Via dell’Ardiglione, 22
366/4534867
Digerolamo
Via del Moro, 58
055/2298378
Fratelli Peroni
Via G. Marconi, 82r
055/572520
Gucci Museum
Piazza della Signoria, 10
055/75923302
Leather School
Scuola del Cuoio
Piazza Santa Croce, 16
055/244533
Madova
Via Guicciardini, 1r
055/2396526
Mannina
Via Guicciardini, 16r
055/282895
Monaco Metropolitano
Via dei Ramaglianti, 6r
055/268121
Pelleterie Fiorentine
Via Sant’ Egidio, 31/r
055/245335
Roberto Ugolini
Via Michelozzi, 17r
055/216246
Via de’ Ginori, 23r (the name of the store is its address!)
055/2398031
Cuor di Pelle
Via dei Pilastri 7A R
+39 3290965746 - +39 055 3880404
xxx
What a joy, finding the perfect, one-of-a-kind leather bag, wallet or jacket, gloves or shoes... a gorgeous and useful souvenir from your trip to Italy, so keep these guidelines in mind and treat yourself to a bit of Italian style!



A few references I used along w/personal experience:
http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/buying-leather-italy.php
https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/complete-guide-shopping-leather-florence