One of the coolest things about traveling around Italy is discovering the strong associations between product and place. Things we enjoy everyday (parmesan cheese) or associate strongly with Italian culture (Ferraris) almost always have a corresponding place where they come from, or where they are best produced (in the cases listed above, look to Parma and Maranello).
Florence can’t lay claim to inventing leather goods, but they can lay claim to perfecting them. Fashionistas and shopaholics the world over know that Florence’s leather markets are the place to go to find expertly crafted purses, belts, jackets, coats and wallets
Florence leather market; photo courtesy Flickr user Laura Padgett via Creative Commons
If you’re new to the scene, here’s a quick introduction:
Start with a casual stroll down Borgo de’ Greci in the Santa Croce neighborhood. Here you will find a host of specialty leather shops and purveyors. Waft in the scent of tanned leather hides and scope out the scene (If you see something to die for, buy it, but there is another market worth investigating before you purchase).
Then proceed to Scoula del Cuoio, an artisan school specializing in leather craft situated inside the monastery of Santa Croce. The school’s history is fascinating. After World War II, Franciscan friars here — supported by two wealthy Florentines — took in war orphans and taught them the leather trade.
Next, make your way back toward the Duomo, and proceed to Piazza San Lorenzo, where the other outdoor leather market begins. Walk down Via Dell’ Ariento toward Via Nazionale, a narrow passageway overflowing with leather goods of all kinds.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is haggling allowed?
Haggling for a better price is commonplace in the Florence leather markets, and it is a good reason why you should shop around first before buying. Scope out several items and you’ll get a good sense of the going value of an item.
Is it accepted practice to try on a leather item, such as a coat or pants?
It is, but it’s often seen as the action of a very serious buyer. As a result, once you’ve tried something on, expect vendors to be more aggressive in their salesmanship. Also note: many street-side stalls have companion stores that are not necessarily within close distance. You may need to follow the vendor a few blocks back to the store to try something on.
Do I need to have cash?
Many vendors accept only cash (some have credit card machines but will tack on service fees). As with many of the crowded markets of Europe, be leery of pickpockets. Keep your money stashed in as safe a place as you can on your person at all times.