Tuscany is one of Italy’s best-known regions for its excellent craftsmanship. Leatherwork is one of the top crafts, an ancient heritage dating back to the Middle Ages.
More precisely, the Etruscans in Tuscany already practised the process of tanning or of treating the skins of animals to produce leather. But the art of leatherwork started evolving under the Republic of Pisa in the 1200s. This happened thanks to the large availability of raw materials from the slaughter of cattle raised in nearby pastures and the supplies obtained from the ports of Sardinia, Sicily and Spain.
In the first decades of the 1400s, after Florence had conquered Pisa, the wealthiest Florentine families decided to invest in leathermaking artisans. They supported some existing tanneries in Pisa and the Valdarno (the nearby valley along the Arno River) and moved part of the leather production to Florence.
As explained by originaltuscany.com, leather tanning was one of the few sectors of the Tuscan industry of medieval origin to emerge unharmed from the crisis of the 1600s. The Tuscan leather industry has been able to renew itself throughout the centuries, to meet the needs of international markets (especially for high fashion) and guarantee a high degree of craftsmanship.
Let’s discover Tuscany’s top leatherwork cities today!
Santa Croce sull’Arno
Located near Pisa in the Arno Valley, Santa Croce sull’Arno is a relatively small town with more than 400 leather factories and workshops! Local artisans are known for collaborating with Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino to create their finest luxury leather accessories.
The leather industry of Santa Croce sull’Arno developed mainly thanks to its proximity with the Arno river (which favoured the trade of leather throughout Tuscany) and the surrounding woods used to obtain the vegetable tannins used in the manufacture of historic leathers.
Here too, the Arno River was fundamental for developing the city’s tanning industry. And as mentioned before, the affluent families of Florence played an essential role in supporting and expanding the industry during the Renaissance. Italymagazine.com shares the fascinating history that followed:
In the early 20th century, the Florentine leather industry was propelled to new heights. A Florentine named Guccio Gucci, son of a leather artisan, turned his back on the family business as a young man. Working in a series of menial jobs at the Savoy Hotel in London, he carried stylish pieces of luggage for wealthy visitors. Gucci returned home to Florence in 1921 and refocused his family on designing fine leather luggage and accessories for a wealthy international clientele. He soon brought the leather goods of his native city to international fame as one of the most recognized names in the fashion world.
Today, it is impossible not to smell the scent of leather bags and other leather goods when walking through Florence!
The leather district of Tuscany
Other leatherwork cities in Tuscany include Ponte a Egola, Castelfranco di Sotto and Fucecchio, all of which – together with Florence and Santa Croce sull’Arno – are generally referred to as “distretto del cuoio” (leather district).
Coming soon in 2023: new professional leatherwork course in Tuscany!
Our one-year leatherwork course in Florence will give you the skills and vision required to start or enrich a professional career as:
- pattern makers
- product developers
- accessory designers
- fashion entrepreneurs
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