Today during our second day in Florence, we were able to visit the Scuelo del Cuoio. This is the local Florentine leather school and workshop. The school was founded after World War II, when the friars in the area decided they needed to help the large number of orphans in the area. They then asked their artisans in the leather making business to open a workshop in Florence. The school was to teach the orphans a feasible trade so they could make lives for themselves after losing their families to the war. The school is now still a family owned business, and there is still a man working for the workshop who was there at the very beginning. He is 89 years old and still practicing his trade. After the leather school, we walked over to the Pitti Palace, which our guide referred to as the “Versailles of Florence.” This palace was bought as a residence for the rich and famous Medici family during the 1500s. Over the years, the palace became a sort of treasure house as the later generations of the family amassed paintings, jewelry, tapestry, and other luxuries. Today, the palace is the largest museum complex in Florence. It houses 8 different museums, including the Silver Museum which we toured and the Boboli Gardens, which I was able to wander by myself afterwards.
The leather school was an amazing experience. All of the products sold at the school are 100% handmade, with the exception of some stitching machines used for some products. For others, holes are punched and sewn together by hand. It’s incredible to think about how a large handbag or a pair of shoes is made completely by hand. For these types of bags, no two are exactly the same. The artisan that specializes in this documents every detail, down to the color of the stitching used. She does this so that when people buy the bag, they are ensured that it is the only one of its kind ever created. These types of skills are not as common in the United States, so it was a very worthwhile experience. The school has many different kinds of training sessions and preparatory courses that it offers. Students come from all over the world to learn the trade of leather working. After they complete their training, they can remain at the school and make products there, return to their home and open their own shops, or even try and remain in Italy and practice their new trade here. Even visitors to the workshop can enroll in short leather working courses so that they can make their very own goods. Not only are there the makers of the products, but there are also the specialists. We saw a demonstration by the man below, Francesco. He is the gilder at the workshop, and his job is to put the gold decorations on the leather. The image below is a coaster that he designed for us. The artisans are able to make their own decisions when it comes to designs on the products, keeping the “workshop” title for the school.
In terms of supply chain, the Florentine Leather School is the final stop for the products. They are the primary manufacturers and sellers/distributors of the leather products. They buy their skins from a tannery that is not too far from town, which is considered to be one of the best in all of Europe. At the school there are many different skins that are used: deer, python, calf, alligator, and ostrich just to name a few. It is tradition for all of the leather to be bought from tanneries located in Italy. The school must also buy some other materials to aid in the making of the bags. One of them would be the gold. They buy only 22K gold leaf plates for the decoration of their products, and only Francesco is allowed to work with the gold. Also, there are materials, such as texon and salpa, which aid in the structure of the bag. These materials are all bought locally. All of these raw materials are then used to make the final products that are for sale at the leather school. But be careful, some of these exotic skins can run you a pretty penny. We were shown a custom bag made of alligator skin that cost about 16,000 euros. The primary products would mostly be handbags, belts, and wallets/clutches. However, there are countless products that are produced by these artisans. Their products attract a wide variety of customers. Most of them will be the average tourist/guest to the school. Others will be locals who trust the quality craftsmanship. There are even times where the school will attract very wealthy/famous guests, like George Lopez for example. Florence has no disappointed, and I am excited to experience the short time remaining in this amazing city. Verona is next!