Scuola del Cuoio, the Florentine leather manufacturer, has a great story. Most of the products may not be suited to Permanent Style, but the school is worth highlighting and the story worth telling.
Scuola del Cuoio was founded in 1950 by the Franciscan monks of the Monastery of Santa Croce, as a way to find an occupation for the some of the orphans that had been created by World War II. The monks partnered with the Gori and Casini families, who had been in the leather business since the 1930s.
The monastery’s old dormitories were used to house the orphans, and workbenches were placed in the corridor outside – hence the slightly odd set-up today, where most of the work is done on long benches in (admittedly rather ornate) corridors.
Those workers you can see in the corridor, pictured above, are some of the 12 full-time workers. There are then three teachers, who work with 20 students in bigger premises downstairs (the 13th-century stables). Although the school is rather huddled under and between the various aspects of the monastery, it is still a spectacular setting – truly part of and within the basilica.
Students have placements of three or six months, and learn most aspects of making bags and small leather goods, including cutting (everything is cut by hand), machine and hand stitching, and skills such as weaving leather. Laura Gori (pictured below), who showed us around, was keen to point out that intrecciato weaving of leather was not invented by Bottega Veneta – despite the brand being the best-known exponent of the technique today.
Students often go onto positions in parts of the menswear industry. One graduate, we were told. recently joined the quality control division at Ralph Lauren.
Most of the product is women’s bags – around 70%. Of the rest, much is small accessories or other leather products such as desk sets. In fact the desk sets are rather famous, as an early connection with the US Army led to President Eisenhower commissioning a leather set for the desk of the Oval Office. US presidents used them up until Bill Clinton.
The product is sold online, in the Scuola del Cuoio shop, and in the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence. A lot is also bespoke, with US and Arab customers in particular being keen purchasers of the brighter, more ostentatious creations. These are all one-off designs, or made to order, by Laura’s sister Francesca (below).
The three sisters run Scuola del Cuoio today, along with Laura’s son Tommaso Melani – who readers will better know as the manager of Stefano Bemer shoes.
There are some nice bags and well-made accessories in the Scuola del Cuoio shop, but mostly it’s worth visiting for the setting and the history – everyone from Princess Diana to Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant to Ted Kennedy have. It’s also deserving of our support, being the largest remaining artisan manufacture in the city, and easily the largest school.
Photos: Luke Carby