Leather is one of the world’s most ancient of traditions, and it certainly has left its mark profoundly on Florence. With street names still dedicated to the old areas (especially Santa Croce) of the leather workers, leather is still very much a part of Florence’s commerce, with bags, jackets and gloves still being popular items after centuries.
Leather gloves were popular with 16th century Florentines when, for fashion’s sake, short sleeves were all the rage. Women often wore long, soft leather gloves up to their elbows, and eventually gloves – both long and short – became an obbligatory fashion accessory until the 19th century. The making of gloves still is a Florentine specialty, the real ones being still hand stitched, and often lined with cashmere for the colder months.
Leather bags were traditionally made in the workshops of the oltrarno and were popular with medieval pilgrims for their long travels, while leather belts were a popular accessory for fashionable Renaissance Florentines. While the “aromatic” tanners of the Middle Ages were traditionally based outside of the town walls, as the city grew larger in the 16th century they were moved even further away from the city. There are still Florentine artisans who work in the traditional way with leather to create bags, belts, shoes and other goods, but beware of the authenticity of the majority of items you find in the markets.
To see more visit the Leather School in Santa Croce, behind the church, to see artisans at work and the workshops of leather artisans such as Paolo Carandini. For bags, belts and gloves, Roberta has good quality, well-priced items, and Madova is the best known for its handmade gloves.
Leather School, inside Santa Croce church (entrance also on Via San Giuseppe, 5r)
Paolo Carandini, Borgo Allegri 17r (Santa Croce area)
Roberta, Borgo San Jacopo 74r (Ponte Vecchio)
Madova, Via Guicciardini 1r (Ponte Vecchio)