Italy has been synonymous with quality, craftsmanship, and luxury for centuries, and “Made in Italy” leather bags are revered today more than ever; but why?
To understand the phenomenon you need to look as far back as the Roman Empire, when teams of leather workers were assembled to supply the ancient army with saddles, sandals, and satchels.
Satchels of the time would have been made from goat hide or calf leather, with bronze hardware used for fasteners and suspension rings. They probably looked similar to what we know today as messenger bags and were used by soldiers to carry rations and personal items.
As the Empire expanded, so did demand, and it was the Roman’s advanced societal structures that allowed the leather industry to scale up, spawning efficient supply chains that included sourcing hides from butchers, developing tanneries and training the craftsmen needed to produce the finished goods.
New tanning processes were developed and guilds were formed to protect the techniques used to produce these highly prized leathers, while tanneries and workshops each developed their own specialties and expertise. Florence and the surrounding areas quickly became the centre of the trade, thanks to its proximity to the Arno river which provided the clean water needed for the tanning process.
As the Roman Empire gave way to the Italian renaissance period, artistic masters came to the fore and gave birth to a seismic shift in European cultural, artistic and economic prosperity, which saw artisans in Florence and Venice begin to decorate their bags using ever more lavish materials such as gold and precious stones, creating booming demand and making the regions internationally renowned.
In Florentine high society in particular, affluent families were already firm believers that appearance and identity were inextricably linked, and their thirst for luxury only increased the reputation of the local craftsmen.
As the middle classes grew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more and more women could afford to buy into the displays of opulence that had previously been reserved solely for the elite.
This continued until much of Italy’s economy was destroyed by war at the beginning of the twentieth century, but a U.S. plan to stabilize and rebuild Europe after the second world war saw Made in Italy reborn.
The Marshall Plan as it is known, saw the U.S. plough over 10% of its $12.7 billion (the equivalent of $137 billion in 2020) aid into Italy, leading to a boom in industry, especially in the industrial north of the country where much of the textile industry was already based.
This allowed the many family-run textile businesses to flourish, utilising the close-knit supply chains that were already in place across the country to start catering to the new global appetite for luxury, as infrastructure was built, markets opened and economies expanded.
Demand has increased ever since, which has inevitably led to more industrialised processes and cheaper goods produced in other parts of Europe and Asia. But the artisanal skills that have been passed down through generations of Italians remain, and consumers still recognise and want the quality and exclusivity that comes with a piece that has been handcrafted by a master of the trade with love and skill and passion, using the finest materials.
That’s why at Atelier Verdi we source our leather from a prestigious tannery in Santa Croce sull'Arno, outside of Pisa, that processes all of their fully-traceable raw hides in-house before our master artisans get to work crafting our pieces in their Scandicci workshops, on the outskirts of Florence.