May 28, 2019, Florence, Italy
Thoughts Heading Into the Day
I am eager to see this factory since leather from Florence is considered one of the best in the world. We had learned a little bit about leather from a student presentation before our study abroad, so I was anxious to see how what we learned compared to reality in this leather factory. I was also interested in learning the about durability of different leathers since I have had several leather couches, and none have held up.
I am not excited to go to the Uffizi Museum just because I am museumed-out. This will be our 8thmuseum and another self-guided tour. However, the Uffizi Museum has a lot of sculptures as well as art. I am hoping they will keep my interest since I really enjoyed seeing the Statue of David.
Pierotucci Leather Factory
The Pierotucci Leather factory, established in 1972, sits outside the historic center of Florence and is one of the top leather producers in Florence. We took a bus, and then had to walk several blocks to get there, and on the way back it rained. That was an adventure in and of itself that I may write about at another time.
This leather factory was my favorite factory so far tour because of the intimate atmosphere in which we interacted with the workers, and the fact that we could take any pictures we wanted! We were able to see the leather and what they do with it from the time it comes off the animal until it is crafted into a purse. I learned that 90% of their leather comes from cows, and 10% from lamb or goats. The shoulder, the very top layer, or flank of the animal provides the best leather. The “crust”, as they call it, is lower quality leather, and scabs on animals cause leather to thin. The process is to cut, dye, then stitch the leather.
Just as we learned from the presentation prior to the study abroad real leather is depicted by:
- Touch – real leather has a natural rough edge and less consistent pattern or texture due to the animal’s natural pores; but the surface can be coarse or smooth depending on the quality
- Smell – real leather has a distinct smell
- Label – real leather will be labeled as such
The processes they use to dye leather and shave or, “skive” it, as they call it, were some of the most interesting. To dye the leather the hide is soaked for 8 hours. It was also interesting to note that 90% of their leather is dyed and 10% is printed. The shaving, or skiving, process is shaving the leather to make the thickness they want. For example, a leather purse may be supple or stiff and that depends on how much the leather is shaved. Shaving is also done to connect edges. I thought it was interesting to watch the workers paint the leather edges by hand to seal them.
However, the most wonderful part of this tour was seeing a real craftsman at work, and in the process of designing a purse! The most interesting part was seeing the protypes of the new designs and listening to how the craftsman constructs the purses. He did not speak any English, so this is what I was able to understand from the interpreter. He starts with a sketch and then transfers that onto the prototype material, which is a very thin, malleable synthetic leather. It is flesh tone in color. Then he cuts it out and puts it together. I did not catch the name of this synthetic material, unfortunately, but I was amazed at how easily it could bend into whatever shape he wanted. I also was surprised to see that plastic tubing helps bend the handles into the shape of the design. I have a picture of two of his prototype purses as well as pictures of them made up into leather. They are beautiful, and so fashionable.
Then our guide talked to us about marketing. We learned that the Pierotucci Leather Factory manufactured brand names in the beginning as well as their own brands to keep their business going. Now they just manufacture their own brand and have an international market. They also do costume designs. It was surprising to hear that their sales are mostly from word of mouth, like tour groups and social media, and that they have no other advertising. Their focus on quality is what makes them successful.
While our guide was talking to us about marketing, she was also showing us finished purse designs. I fell in love with the Fortunta (fortune) purse design, which is a square patchwork design and is the new design for 2019. I liked this purse so much that when we went to the factory store and I saw a smaller version in my favorite color—green—I bought it. I did not realize until then it was also a world-wide seller, which explained the cost. Why do I always have champagne taste!?! This store has large selections of handbags, belts, wallets, gloves, and jackets all made in the factory. Being able to buy what you had seen being made in this factory was a real plus on this tour.
Side note: Wendy and I also went leather shopping at the open market near our hotel this evening. I purchased belts for my boys and bartered the price. It was great fun. We liked the vendor, Joseff, so much, we continued to go back to him throughout the week and by the week’s end he was giving us incredible deals.
Uffizi Gallery Museum
This afternoon we went to the Uffizi Museum and looked at 14th-century and Renaissanceart. That was the most I have enjoyed a museum yet because Eleina, a fellow student, came with Wendy and I. Eleina knew so much about 14th-century and Renaissance art that it was like she was our personal tour guide. I learned a lot about why each time period depicted art in a certain way. For example, 14th-century art had sad, somber, or thoughtful expressions because it was considered fashionable for the time to have those expressions. The time period was also ridden with death and plagues so people may have actually looked like that, which was an interesting thought. I started looking at the paintings differently once I realized melancholy was a desirable trait, but still I found them too sad or just weird to ever want to hang on my wall in my house.
The religious paintings were endless, and I became tired of seeing altar pieces that once adorned churches showing our Savior in strange ways to depict his suffering. I also grew tired of seeing paintings of the virgin Mary, or Madonna, with the Christ child because they were so idealistic. It was also evident from these paintings that Mary is revered so much she is worshiped as a God, but she is not a God.
Piero Del Pollaiolo’s paintings of the seven Virtueswere quite interesting. I only focused on the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. In these paintings young women are holding something to depict their virtue. I thought it quite appropriate that Faith was holding symbols of the Sacrament, or Eucharist as other religions call it, a challis and a crucifix. Hope has her hands joined in prayer and her eyes raised to heaven. Charity I did not understand. She holds a flame of fire in one hand and suckling child in the other.
Eleina’s favorite painting in this museum is called Springby Botticelli. Ithas 138 species of plants in it. It also seems to be depicting the seasons. That is a painting I would like to study more because I love vegetation. Ironically, this same painting is hung between the beds in our hotel room, something I had not noticed before going to this museum.
Ancient statues and busts line the corridors of this museum. However, after seeing the Statue of David these did not capture my attention. I thought the statues of Laöcoon and His Sons, the Dying Niobid, and the bust of the Dying Alexander were unique, however. That may go to show what kind of mood I was in too since they were all about death. The suffering shown in all these statues through contorted bodies and facial expressions, especially of Laöcoon and his dying sons at the hand of a sea serpent, was eerie. The Dying Niobid originally had blood painted on the statue dripping from the wounds of the arrow holes. I wondered why someone would want such statues of human agony. I learned that many were Roman copies of lost Greek sculptures, and the busts were from the Medici family. I also wondered why there were so many busts of the Medici’s. Then I realized that maybe this was the way they remembered loved ones since they did not have photographs.
Takeaways From the Day
The Pierotucci Leather Factory was the third business I had toured on this study abroad whose business model focused on quality work as the foundation for its success. That was my biggest takeaway. Quality work is one of my pet peeves with products today and seeing this craftsman working on these purses made me want it all the more. This is probably the real reason I was so attracted to the leather purse I bought. The purse be a great example of quality workmanship to show my students.
At the Uffizi Museum I realized art reflects the mood of the time period more than anything else until someone breaks the rules, like Michelangelo or Leonardo de Vinci. I was more grateful for these renowned artists after seeing so many paintings and sculptures in this museum that looked that same and were somber and sad.