How Leather is Made
Today, the tanning and working of leather is much more complicated than it was in the days of those malodorous mediaeval tanneries along the Arno. In fact, the production and sale of leather products in Italy is an extraordinarily complex topic that touches culture, history, fashion, economy, and the very core of Italian self-identity. In order to grasp this complicated world of Italian leather, it helps to think about the industry as divided into three tiers:
- Industrial:The industrial sector employs tens of thousands of workers and represents a major force in Italy’s economy. Many of the Italian leather jackets, purses, belts, gloves, and shoes carried in chic apparel shops around the world are produced in enterprises concentrated outside of Florence. The hides are prepared in small to medium-sized firms across Tuscany, with a concentration of such companies scattered between Florence and Pisa. Many of the items you see in the leather shops or pelletterie of Florence were made in these medium-sized industrial enterprises in the Tuscan countryside and distributed to the shops via wholesalers.
- Luxury-branded:These leather goods are intended for resale in the boutiques of some of the most recognized Italian luxury brand names in the international fashion world. Here’s where things get complicated, since much of the perceived value of the luxury leather brands lies in the selection and treatment of the raw materials, as well as in the craftsmanship behind each finished piece. Many luxury companies subcontract at least some aspects of production to those companies in the industrial sector—the same ones who make leather for cars and sofas. They may outsource the procurement and preparation of hides, as well as the cutting and stitching of bags, jackets, skirts, dresses, gloves, and other items. On the other hand, most of the luxury brands also make sure that certain signature items are hand-finished in house by skilled artisans. For the most part, it’s accurate to view these luxury-branded items as a hybrid of industrial and artisanal production, as the fundamental business of these luxury companies relies on selling well-made, high-quality products on a large scale.
- Artisanal:Last but not least are the individual artisanal leather producers. Florence boasts many of these unsung masters of leather, and it’s worth the effort to seek them out for their beautiful pieces, as well as the opportunity to watch them work. Here the focus is less on the preparation of hides and more on the craftsmanship of cutting, fitting, sewing, stitching, and hand-finishing a custom work. Today, fully handcrafted leather production in Florence focuses on bookbinding and the making of small objects such as boxes and desk sets. One such example you can see at Legatorio il Torchio di Erin Ciullaat Via de’ Bardi, 17. There are, however, a handful of leather artisans making gloves, shoes, bags, and other fashion accessories completely by hand, our personal pick is the historical Via Ferdinando Bonaventura Moggi, 11, 50127 Firenze FI.
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