June 04 2010
I spent sizeable chunks of my childhood in Italy, often trailing behind my mother as she ferociously shopped the piled-high markets of Tuscany’s hill towns – her haul of bags and shoes was always impressive. Markets in Italy were so chic and appealing compared to the tatty ones back in London. But Florence was a rare exception: there, the stalls around San Lorenzo were tourist-trappish, selling leather goods that were overpriced and poorly made.
But we had a secret alternative, a place that I still visit every time I’m in Tuscany. Whenever I need a simple, classic wallet or belt, I make for the Piazza Santa Croce. There, behind the landmark church, is the Scuola del Cuoio (Leather School). It’s a joint venture between the friars here and the Gori, one of the storied old Florentine leatherworking families, and is a workshop where the artisans still toil onsite (second picture), in full view.
Since I first shopped here, the set-up has changed somewhat – the latest generation has updated the offerings with one-of-a-kind, hand-stitched handbags personally designed by Francesca Gori in rare skins such as crocodile or ostrich (from around €240 to more than €3,000; first picture, ostrich handbag, €1,375).
Though they’re beautiful, her trendy designs aren’t of interest to me – I stick with the beautiful basic classics: briefcases (I love the vintage calf style for €349) or a butter-soft black leather wallet for just €35. And these days the pilgrimage I’ve made every couple of years is no longer crucial – the friars now offer the entire collection online.