Florence has a reputation for fine leather goods for hundreds of years, and Florentine leather is a popular souvenir from this area of Italy. There are a range of factors that contribute to the quality of leather, and this can be difficult to navigate when there are so many options for purchasing these goods. Here are some simple and practical suggestions for buying leather goods while you are in Florence:
Judge the leather quality
The quality of leather is generally based on the way that it is prepared, and there will be several key differences in products if you are looking for genuine, quality goods.
Soft and supple feel
Top quality leather will be extremely supple, and will still have imperfections as the top layer has not been removed. Lower quality leather has had several layers taken off. Good quality leather should not be stiff.
Musty and natural smell
Good leather will smell rich and musty and natural. High quality leather will have the characteristic, animal smell to it. Lower quality goods will smell like glue and chemicals instead of cow hide, and this usually indicates that it has been pressed together with other things in the manufacturing process. Chemicals are used as a way to cover up the quality of leather in the manufacturing process, so the aroma is a good indicator of how good the product is.
Natural colours are best
Natural leather does not need dyes as the rich colour stands on its own and reveals the imperfections and natural state of the hide. You can check the edges of products to see if it is the same colour all the way through (if the product design allows). The same sorts of products that have chemicals pressed into them can also be spray painted to cover up the quality, so look for rich, natural colours.
In general, good quality leather products are characterized by tight, small stitches that are close together
Where to buy leather products in Florence?
There are three tiers of leather making: industrial, luxury and artisan. These can all be found in the many different leather outlets, ranging from high end luxury stores to the vast street markets in Florence. Where you buy your leather will depend on what quality you want and what products you want to buy.
From the markets - for touristy and low cost leather articles
Popular markets such as San Lorenzo market and Mercato Nuovo have extensive ranges of leather goods, and they are saturated with products. These markets are designed to be enticing to tourists, so if you are serious about buying products then probably keep your time here to a minimum.
In saying this, using the guidelines above you might still be able to find some mid-range quality goods if you focus on the product and not on the environment that it is being sold in. It would also probably be a good place to start if you are looking for imitation leather and not animal products
From artisans - for the best leather craftsmanship
Artisanal leather craftsmanship is focused more on how the products are made than the hides themselves. Buying products direct from the makers is a good way to determine how a product was made. This is probably the best option if you are wanting to buy smaller items such as boxes, purses and leather bound albums and books as apparel will still need a bit of navigation.
Buying straight from the maker also gives the added bonus of items being slightly more personal, and you can sometimes go and watch the artisans as they work.
From established stores - for luxury leather
If you want to be sure of quality, you could go and check out some of the well-established stores throughout Florence and get immersed in the history of this distinctly Italian product. Here are a few stores that you can try, but it is a good idea to research ahead of time if you are looking for particular items:
Leather is no more special in Florence
Florence used to be the capital city of leather products...once! Today leather products are produced by big industries, including those products sold in San Lorenzo the historical marketplace in Florence. Leather products bought there won’t be any different from any other bought in any other city of Italy.
But you can always check around if you find some old workshop that still works on leather like they used to do 100 years ago.