When one visits Florence, Italy, a treasure you may want to bring back for yourself or a loved one is a gift made out of their famous Florentine leather. The problem is many merchants in Florence want to get in on the leather action, and some leathers are better than others, sadly some leathers are genuine and some are not. Almost every corner you turn in downtown Florence you will see leather jackets, coats, hand bags, wallets, belts, beautiful leather bound journals, book marks and even magnets. Florentine crafted leather is everywhere, but beware of the faux leather products, unless you are looking for “Vegan Leather”.
Right off the bat, one place I will recommend are the FP Pelletterie shops, I found a black calf leather cross body bag which I absolutely adore and means more to me than my mass produced Coach Bag or even Louis Vuitton purse (all high quality items), but there is something special about buying something which is handcrafted in a city known for their leather products. It is a special bag I will use for many years to come. There are a few FP Pelletterie shops and I cannot tell you exactly which one I was in, but it was in the Piazza Del Duomo.
The lady who helped me find my perfect purse was very knowledgeable about the different types of leather she sold, and you could see in the back of the store where leather goods were made and fixed. The price was not what I had hoped for, but I had done my research and knew that I would be looking to spend over $200 Canadian for a quality leather purse in Italy. Mine was 195 Euros, but she sold it to me for 180 Euros. After the exchange, I spent around $273.00, the exchange hurt, but I love my cross body bag.
You can check out their link and see for yourself all the wonderful leather goods they sell http://www.fppelletterie.com/
Check out my purse!
Once I bought my purse, I didn’t look at any other leather goods, as I am still a recovering shopaholic, and the best way not to shop is to avoid temptation, but I won’t say I didn’t notice all the leather stands around me boasting inexpensive prices, but the crowded vendors vomiting an array of different colored leather goods with hand written mark down signs appealed little to me. The prices appeared to be too good to be true, such as 37 Euros for a cross body bag claiming to be made out of Florentine Leather. In my experience, when something appears to be too good to be true, it usually is.
Doing my own research I had heard that the famous San Lorenzo or Mercato dell Porcellino near Piazza della Signoria does sell real leather goods, but not high quality leather. In addition some vendors will slap a made in Italy sticker on a leather product, but it was actually mass produced in China or it has come from Spain (they have leather, but the quality is not as superior to their Italian neighbour). There are “pleather” or “vinyl” items sold at these markets too which claim to be leather, but you are essentially buying some synthetic plastic imitation leather and being ripped off.
I read a few articles saying you can do a “flame test” or ask the merchant to do a flame test, where you take a match or a lighter and put it underneath the non visible side of the leather, and if it melts… well, it isn’t leather! Apparently, real leather will constrict or shrink and emit a meat like smell, whereas faux will produce black smoke and smell like burnt plastic/chemicals. I did not do the flame test on my purse, but I purchased mine in a leather factory shop. Just be weary of those sweet low prices, and apparently this flame test is quite common, so don’t be afraid to ask.
In my research I read that real leather has a velvety touch to the unpolished side, whereas artificial leather will have a very soft felt like feel. Leather has a pretty distinct lighter odour whereas artificial leather tends to be a strong scent of cheap dollar store plastic or chemicals. I was advised on a previous trip to Italy not to rely only on smell when buying leather. Also, when holding leather in your hand, the leather retains the warmth of your skin, whereas faux does not.
From Wiki How:
My experience from previous travels has been that merchants who are overly pushy or enthusiastic to make a sale should be approached with caution. Those quick sales or pressure sales, where you are overwhelmed by all the commentary or choices being thrown at you is to get you to leave with at least one if not many of their mass produced cheap items. I don’t like to be pushed or pressured when I shop; I have learnt to be firm in my resolve of “only looking” regardless of how many items are shoved at me to try on. A sales clerk may say something like “I will give you a special price but only today!”. That special priced is every day and anyone who will be bamboozled into a sale. Sometimes, they genuinely are enthusiastic sales clerks trying to make a good commission, but some are trying to push junk off their shelves.
Sadly, in beautiful Florence there are stores like this, and more unfortunately, my boyfriend is pretty sure he bought a pair of plastic shoes at a shop called “Le Cinque Lampade”. I still think they are leather, but he has analyzed them thoroughly and is positive they are either cheap leather or plastic. I bought a pair too, but I did get a good price whether faux or real, they are fun!
Brian did some research on this shop and there were heaps of blogs and posts online about the bad customer service, pushy clerks, and the mean old owner. I believe the larger problem more so than what was being sold for a discounted price was the poor treatment of their patrons. I can guarantee there are no returns or exchanges at this shop. The older man or possible owner, rang in my shoes, and I wanted to use my debit VISA, and I had plenty of money in my account, he swiped my card as a regular VISA, and said “negato!” and I said, that it was debit I was using, but he said my card was “no good” and “Negato!”. He tisked me as though I were some sort of criminal, so I had cash, and I gave it to him which he grabbed from me, and didn’t even say thank you! That was my main beef – rude customer service. I am not sure if everything they sell is junky or just a warehouse full of older products/overflow products with reduced prices. My shoes certainly seem to have a lot of details on them, and they were the last pair (or so they say). Anyway, I am fine with my purchase, Brian not so much.
Below are some details on the location of the shop Le Cinque Lampade & I would avoid it if I were you.
Oh! With the above shop, I also noticed that they did not have a website. Most reputable establishments will have a website regardless of how old the owner may be. Everything you need to know about Florence and shopping for leather can be found on line, so if you are worried about something, Google it!
Have fun in Florence!
Don’t become too obsessed with avoiding being scammed. I am of the mindset that I would rather have one really nice item like the leather bag I bought than a bunch of mediocre stuff of questionable quality. You do pay for what you get, and you are not going to score a heap of quality leather items at a discounted price in Florence, as much as you would like to have this happen, it won’t happen. Shopping should be the least of your concerns when exploring this beautiful Tuscan city.
More to come on Italy October 2016. Below is a gorgeous Tuscan sunset taken from our hotel Mulina de Firenze, miles away from the business of downtown Florence.