Florentine Artisanal Leatherwork
The first time I went to Florence was in 2012 and I immediately fell in love with the city. Getting an item of clothing or accessory from the places I travel to is a must for me, as a kind of wearable souvenirs. Every time I put them on and look at them I get transported back to a cinematic lazy summer day or the energy of an urban centre. In the case of Florence, I had determined on a pair of leather gloves even before I arrived. As a centre for leatherwork in Italy and indeed the world this is the perfect indulgence.
Italian fashion has long been acknowledged internationally as combining top quality in style and craftsmanship and the brand 'Made in Italy' has come to speak for itself. The tanning of leather to preserve the hide is an ancient art but Florence really rose to prominence in the craft during the Middle Ages. The Tuscan city was one of the most dynamic, industrious and progressive mercantile hubs and the Guild system ensured that craftsmanship rose to the highest quality while protecting the secret techniques. Already then Florence was famous for textile and leather production and that reputation has been held for centuries since.
These secret techniques are still protected, handed down from generation to generation and from master to apprentice in Florence’s family-run botteghe of lavorazione artiginale cuio (artisanal leather workshops) where the artigiani della pelle (the ‘artisans of the hide’) work their magic. The gloves are usually hand sewn which shows in the neatness of the finish and in the comfort of the fit. Gloves are usually cut from four pieces – the top and bottom layer of the fingers and hand plus two pieces for the top and bottom layer of the thumb. The lining is sewn similarly and then inserted into the glove, attached and the seams are finished. Working with leather requires special sturdy leather needles as the material is a lot more tough than say fabric. For this reason, too, the practice of an apprenticeship of several years is necessary for the required precision.
That first time in Florence, I went to Martelli in the Via Por Santa Maria and bought a pair of chestnut brown gloves of fine leather studded with rows of buttons and lined with a cashmere-silk mix (for I think about 47€). Martelli have a vast selection of styles, colours, leathers and offer excellent service both in English and Italian. The shop is not big but very aesthetic, full of dark wood panelling and cabinets bursting with finely stacked pairs of gloves. Designs range from sleek and traditional to more quirky pairs in modern colours and with details like ruffles and buttons, all extremely elegant. The staff are experts in estimating your glove size and assist you in trying on (you just place your elbow on a pillow on the counter) and give advice on how to care for the leather. I had no idea what size I required and the first pair they chose fitted perfectly.
For seven winters now they have kept my hands warm and cozy and there isn’t even a scratch on them. I’m sure they’ll last me at least another seven winters and I am always super careful to not leave them behind because they mean so much to me. They are versatile and always upgrade every outfit.
I have since been back to Florence several times and even lived there for several months which were some of the happiest I ever spent. As an art historian I cannot get enough of this city. Wherever one turns there is a cinematic scene taking place and a work of art from the Renaissance. Everything is reachable on foot and while the centre holds all the famous attractions, the quarters further out are gems too, full of food markets where the locals shop and of small creative businesses. This lifestyle makes one feel so connected to the environment and surroundings and truly value each day. In future posts on the ArtisansCurator blog, I will introduce you to another glove maker. Ciao!
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