Florence is known for its great art and cathedrals.
However, my girlfriend The Seeker was on a mission to buy leather bags. Along the way, she schooled us on all things leather. This is what I learned.
- Florence has a central street market, Mercato di San Lorenzo. If you are from NYC, think Delancey Street on leather steroids. The quality of the goods is on the lower end but you can find some good deals on bags, belts and leather jackets.
- The “straw market” Mercato Nuovo, has mid-range leather goods. The price and quality is also variable.
- For upper end leather shopping, The Leather School – Scuola del Cuoio should not be missed. The Leather School is a little off the beaten path, inside an old church. I knew I was in the right place when I heard a sound I recognized from the States. The sing-song accents and laughter of Southern Black women. About four sisters were there when we arrived … with an order so large that they were shipping their purchases back to the US. (You Go Girls!) At The Leather School you can meet the craftsmen, designers and even have your purchases monogrammed. It was also the place where Bonita found her bags. (Who knew a girl from Spanish Harlem could be so picky.)
- First, use your nose. Smell the leather. It should not smell like residual chemicals or dyes.
- Then inspect the quality of the stitching. This is where a lot of bags that looked pretty lost me as a buyer.
- Open bags and inspect the lining. A number of people told us their bags were lined with pigskin. Hmmm… I also have a bridge I can sell you. Nada. The lower end products are lined with a polyester type cloth. The best bags are lined with silk or leather.
- Touch the leather. It should be soft and supple. If it feels like your husband’s feet, keep it moving.
- Do a preview tour before buying. We spent our first day in Florence scoping out the various leather vendors and getting a feel for prices, quality etc.
- Bargain hard!!!! This is where a little cleavage comes in handy (just keeping it real). Many of the merchants in the markets have traditional brick and mortar stores. The Seeker and Diva Goddess were so good with their market shopping that two merchants took them to their shops where they were able to negotiate steep discounts.
- Made in Italy vs. Italian Leather. We learned that bags labeled Italian Leather were often made in China. By looking for the Made in Italy tag you will be supporting local artisans while you travel.