School of Leather - Florence

5 March 2024

The School of Leather or Scuola del Cuoio as it is known in Italy, was founded after World War II with help from the Franciscan friars from Santa Croce, and the Gore and Casini families. Both families had been Florentine leather artisans since the 1930s, and their mission was to give orphans of the war a practical trade with which to earn a living.

Since the 13th century, Santa Croce, due to its well placed position along the banks of the Arno river, had been the district where the tanneries that required great quantities of water, were concentrated. The tanned hides were used for centuries for the city’s leather manufacturing and at the Monastery Santa Croce, the leather was used to cover great manuscripts.

During the Renaissance, the Medici family donated the dormitory to the friars who later converted the space into the leather school. The main corridor, with its vaulted ceiling still shows the coats of arms of the most powerful family in Florence.

Among the first students of Scuola Del Cuoio, were orphaned boys from Pisa. The students were taught the difference between various kinds of leather, and indeed the methods to cut leather by hand which allowed them to make handbags, briefcases and small leather goods. The more gifted students learned how to make desk sets and jewellery cases and were taught the art of gilding leather using 22 carat gold.

In 1950, the School of Leather opened its doors to clients. Their handcrafted leather goods became every popular in the US with American movie stars visiting the factory. There was even a personal order from General Dwight D. Eisenhower when he became president. The leather desk set (below) sat on his desk in the Oval Office in Washington.

Today the Scuola del Cuoio remains the largest leather ‘leather lab’ in the city where clients can witness the talented artisans creating leather goods in real time at their work stations.

Prices of course vary greatly depending on what you order. Bags can cost thousands or you can opt to purchase a leather keepsake in the form of a keyring or a small jewellery pouch. Most items can be personally monogrammed by the artisans whist you wait.

The great tradition of Florentine leather making is still alive and every year, the foundation still trains and educates six young apprentices.

For more than 70 years, the four generations of the Gori family have ensured that this beautiful skill is being passed on to younger generations.

There is also an interesting wall displaying notable visitors to the leather school – everyone from British Royalty, US Presidents and actors such as Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Robert Downey Junior to name a few.

No trip to Florence is complete without a visit to to the School of Leather; it’s a deeply fascinating to see the great tradition of Florentine leather making up close.

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