Today we visited Linea Pelle, a company that describes itself as the most important source of leather and fabrics in the world. At first, I was confused about the company’s exact role, but then I realized it is similar to the Consorzio we visited. What I gathered is that many tanneries and producers of leather pay to be part of Linea Pelle. Linea Pelle then shows leather samples at fashion exhibitions, and customers can purchase the products directly from the tanneries. Basically, Linea Pelle provides exposure and legitimacy to the producers that are a part of it; they pick the colors and styles that are in that season and display them. I found this very interesting, because often we do not know exactly what inspires the fashions we wear. We also had the opportunity at the visit to learn more about leather than I had ever know. The woman told us that there are three layers to animal skin and that the dermis is the layer that is turned into leather. The grain side of the dermis is the most important, because it preserves the natural pattern of the animal. This is the part that is usually displayed on the outside of jackets, purses, etc. Real leather experts can even tell which animal supplied the product just by looking at the grain. We also saw samples of leather including cow, anaconda, fish, toad, and even shark leather; it was very interesting to see. I had no idea that there were so many different types of leather. My favorite is the ostrich leather though because of the unique pattern of dots present caused by their feathers being removed.
Also, there are many technological advancements being made in the leather industry that could completely revolutionize the trade. For example, there is a new technique in which you can apply a sort of design film over a piece of leather. Essentially, the leather could have any pattern you want on it from polka dots to tie dye. This technique usually gives the grain side of the leather a glossy looking and feeling finish. Similarly, embossed finishing is a technique in which people imitate the patterns of a different animal on an animal skin. This may be to save costs, but some producers go as far as to imitate zebra and cheetah patterns on cow skin. In addition, there is a technique very similar to that of the screen printing method at the Mantero Spa, in which producers can print different successions of colors onto a piece of leather to create a design. Along with changing the look of leather, technology has also allowed for nimbler changing of the shape of leather as well. Laser cutting and stamp cutting allow for intricate patterns to literally be traced and cut into leather. Sewing leather panels together with elastic string can make leather stretch. Also, intricate sewing can create various new patterns never seen before in leather. All of these technological innovations are making the leather industry stray from authenticity. All of a sudden, the classic beauty of the cow hide may be boring to consumers compared to screen printed and laser cut leather pieces of some unknown animal. Also, natural, sometimes uneven patterns in animal hides may not be perfect enough for some consumers who can opt instead for the precision of embossed finishing. In my opinion, this is a bad thing. I thought all of the original pieces of leather shown to us at Linea Pelle were quite beautiful, because they all had their own unique patterns and looked very authentic. However, when the technologically processed pieces were shown to us to demonstrate the aforementioned techniques, I thought most of them were quite gaudy. I do not know why anyone would pay more for that kind of leather than the real thing; you can put polka dots or zebra stripes on any material you want. I honestly thought some of it even looked cheap. It would be sad, in my opinion, to see the industry stray from the beauty of real, authentic leather. However, since leather is of huge importance to the fashion industry in Italy as we have seen on this trip, I do not think this will happen.
In addition, the production of leather has the potential to create many issues, both politically and socially. The woman mentioned that there had been animal rights activists that have approached the company and asked them to stop their practices. However, Linea Pelle stresses that they only use the byproducts of the food industry for most hides, and for more exotic ones, the animals are specifically bred for this purpose. To go along with this, the most important political trend facing Italy today is the mere split between the north and south of the country in regards to political beliefs. I can only assume the attitudes towards leather production are equally as split. Some people most likely find the leather industry unethical, while others recognize it as an important and non harmful part of Italy’s culture. Personally, I agree with the latter group. All of the companies that we visited on the trip took much pride in their leather production if they had any, because it is something they are passionate about. For many, it runs in their family to be a leather artisan. Of course, I would not support hides of endangered species, but this is not something that is done. I respect leather’s beauty and importance, and I hope Italy’s political climate does not harm its production.