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December 04, 2013

Hands-On Italian Leather

By Amy Tara Koch | Experiences

Hands-On Italian Leather
Courtesy of Scuola del Cuoio

Scoring quality leather in Florence is about as difficult as finding a hot dog in Chicago. But I didn’t want Gucci, Prada or Ferragamo. I was on the prowl for something different: esoteric, timeless, outstandingly stylish and, most important, something nobody at home would be able to identify. My search led me down a labyrinth of centuries-old cobblestone streets to an alley behind the famed Santa Croce church. Here, at the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School), I had been told I would discover some of the most exceptional leather in the city. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Medici family had gifted the historic building—vaulted ceilings, preserved frescoes—to the Franciscan monks of Santa Croce during the Renaissance. After World War II, it was decided to tap into Florence’s rich leather heritage and create a school that would offer war orphans a practical trade. Along with two distinguished Florentine families (Gori and Cassini), the friars transformed the Medici wing of the monastery into a school, which passed down the time-honored traditions of leather crafting to a new generation.

That commitment to artistry still stands. Hides are tanned, cut, stitched and assembled in open workshops in the exact same manner as was done by the workers’ ancestors. Glass cases brim with exotic accessories crafted from every type of pelt under the (Tuscan) sun. In contrast to mass-produced wares on Via del Corso, on-site artisans craft the school’s burled-leather cigar cases, desk accessories made with goatskin inlaid with 22-karat gold, alligator luggage, crocodile handbags and lambskin jackets.

Despite the luxury goods, the school still focuses on education, offering short (three-hour) and long (one-year) workshops to tourists and locals. After wandering through the workshops and test-driving numerous bags, I decided on two statement-making python cuffs and a black calfskin Epi wallet with a dramatic red interior. No one back home could identify the origin. Mission accomplished. Piazza Santa Croce, 16; 39-055/244-5334; scuoladelcuoio.com.

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