The tradition of Florentine leather

The history of leather in Florence has its roots in a centuries-old tradition that has given life to one of the most unique artisan production sites in the world: the Leather School of Florence.

Already in the mid-1200s at the base of Ponte Vecchio, along with the banks of the Arno, the galilai, as the leather craftsmen were called, together with tanners, leather-makers, dyers, and shoemakers, turned this craft into a true art. From the union of these skilled masters, the first Università dei Maestri del Cuoiame (University of the Masters of Leatherwork) was born.

florentine leather: Male worker in leather workshopThe skin that was wet and worked in the waters of the Arno emitted a strong odor, however, and it was decided to move its production to Piazza Santa Croce. Walking through the alleys of the square in fact, we can still see references to these trades in the names of its streets, Via dei Conciatori (Tanners Way), Corso dei Tintori (Dyers St.).

Today, inside the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Scuola del Cuoio (The School of Leather) is preserved and resists the crisis of a sector threatened by counterfeiting.  Founded after World War II by the Friars of the Basilica and by the renowned artisan families of Gori and Casini, it welcomed boys and orphans of the world conflict and taught them the leather trade. Young students who stood out for their talent were the pulsing engine of a rebirth of activities tied to Florentine leather.

florentine leather: female owner gesturing while standing at workshopIn 1952 the school opened its doors to visitors: some of its greatest admirers were the American generals in Italy and the American embassies in Europe. Even General Eisenhower, who later became president of the United States, wanted a handmade desk set from the Leather School’s artisans. Since then it became a tradition to send to every newly elected American president, a special wish in the form of a precious desk set for the Oval Office.

The school has always had a strong bond with the United States: just think that 65% of the turnover of the School comes from exports and sales in the US by authorized dealers and in New York, there is an original brand showroom.

Useful Tips to Recognize the Real Thing

Back to us and to our advice on how to recognize genuine Florentine leather and which are the best leather shops in Florence.

florentine leather: a cobbler at workFinding genuine leather in Florence is not difficult, but don’t let yourselves be deceived by the conmen who approach you to sell you an imitation. Always go to authorized and certified Italian shops, breathe in the scent of their products, touch the handcrafted or hand-woven Florentine leather bags,  and if you perceive irregularities in the colors or in the weave, don’t worry: this is the trademark of handmade craftsmanship.

Carved with antique tools and worked after being wet, real Florentine leather is made into one-of-a-kind objects in limited quantities, and its slightly higher price reflects the quality and individuality of your small work of art. The best shops also allow you to customize your purchase by engraving your gift or the special souvenir that you will bring home with you after your trip to Tuscany.

The Best Shops in Florence to Buy Leather

To avoid mistakes, we suggest you buy directly from the Leather School’s dedicated shop or from the best shops and boutiques whose offers range from clothing to home decor to footwear. Some names?

CAF, Cuoio Artistico Fiorentino  (Florentine Artistic Leather), is an institution in the city that combines design and family tradition.  Casini, in Piazza dei Pitti, is the realm of the entirely handmade Infinity bag that has no visible seams.

If between a museum visit and a walk in the narrow streets you manage to carve out a bit of time to visit Via Lungo l’Ema, the shop Pietrorucci shows its customers from where their luxurious and original creations are born by transforming itself into a true workshop with the expert hands of a craftsman at work. You will find sophistication also in the luxury products of Peruzzi where fashion blends with craftsmanship. So what else can we say?  Choose what suits you best from our luxury Italy tours. Among our destinations you will also find the 11-day tour of Venice, Amalfi and Florence, don’t hesitate!