Whilst you can source leather goods from all corners of the globe, the quality and authenticity of these products will vary. There are certain countries with standout regions that carry a reputation for their production of world-class leather. In this piece we focus on some key countries in Europe and their unique leather history, and how this positions them as leaders in handmade leather goods. We’ll also share tips on what to look out for when making your own selection so you can ensure a quality piece every time.
The UK is a spearhead for handmade leather goods, thanks to its expert manufacturers and technical specialists. British craftsmanship dates back centuries, with many traditional leather-making skills still used today. The Midlands is one such region renowned for its production of quality leather. Walsall and Northampton are areas with a deep leather history, from saddle and harness making in the 1900s, to the custom leather goods made today. Leather still contributes significantly to the economy here. The recently established Walsall Leather Skills Centre is a training workshop that empowers young people to develop new skills, and continues to support the long-history of leather businesses in the town.
At Billy Tannery our handmade leather products are produced in both the Midlands and Somerset - another region celebrated for quality leather. Yeovil is the home of leather glove making, and where global fashion-brand Mulberry was first established; its name inspired by the mulberry trees the founder Roger Saul used to pass each day on his way to school. This attention to detail is something we apply to our sustainably-made British leather products, which we produce only in small batches so we never compromise on quality. Like the regions they come from, our leather is distinguished, with a strong focus on traditional British craftsmanship.
Italy is one of the fashion capitals of the world, characterised by its luxury products and legendary fashion houses; Versace, Prada, Armani and Valentino, to name a few. It’s the unique Italian style and impeccable attention to detail that’s earned the country its reputation as a producer of world-class leather. The beautiful city of Florence is one such place, steeped in tradition, with a leather history that dates back thousands of years. It’s also the city that Gucci propelled to fame when he began designing handmade leather goods for international clientele back in the 1920s.
Florence has its own school of leather, Scuola del Cuio, where you can watch experts and students at work. They’ll usually be handling material from Italy’s famous Tuscan tanneries, just outside the city. You can discover everything in Florence from the leather in boutique high-end stores to the custom-made pieces from independent sellers. Be sure to visit San Lorenzo Market which has a huge variety of Italian handmade leather goods including bags, suitcases, clothing and accessories.
With its impressive cultural heritage, Spain is a country well-known for the production of quality handmade leather goods. It boasts large numbers of reputable international brands, such as Manolo Blahnick and Lowe, with emphasis on traditional craftsmanship, independent makers and bespoke design. In particular is the region of Ubrique, a small mountain town in Cadiz, where the history of handmade leather goods goes back a long way. Leather production has been taking place here since the Roman era. However, it was during the 19th century Industrial Revolution that Ubrique began to really make a name for itself, with the arrival of immigrants from Southern Italy cementing the leather trade in the town.
Today, world famous designers such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel all commission pieces from the workshops of Ubrique; despite its tiny population, over 70% of Spain’s leather goods originate here. The town’s world-class techniques have been passed down through the generations but remain secret to only the locals of Ubrique.
France is one of the world’s largest exporters of unprocessed leather, with calf leather in particular making it a leader in this sector. Like Italy, it’s a global fashion emblem, with names such as Hermès and Louis Vuitton starting their own leather-journey in Paris. These leading designers have achieved notoriety through their line of products, much of which is rooted in the quality of the handmade leather goods they produce.
Louis Vuitton started as an apprentice for Monsieur Marecha, a successful box maker in Paris, where he honed his skills as a trunk maker. He then went on to produce his own collection of leather trunk cases which have since achieved iconic world status. Hermès founded his company in 1837, originally as a harness workshop in Paris, then began to produce leather bags for riders to carry their saddles in. From there, the company’s fashion status grew. Hermès is now ranked as one of the world’s biggest luxury brands with a value of over £30billion, followed closely by Louis Vuitton. Today, with over 130,000 people employed in the leather-making industry, and around 45 tanneries across France, it’s a country characterised by both reverent style and exceptional leather-skills.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
There are lots of wonderful leather products to choose from but many fakes dominate the market, as well as low-quality leather. Sometimes this isn’t always visible to the naked eye but from the look and feel you can usually identify the premium aspect of the leather you’re handling. Full-grain leather is the highest quality – it will feel heavy, and look thick. There should also be burnish around the edge to seal the product, and thick stitching with no loose threads. Any details like the buckles and zips should also feel sturdy as a sign of the quality. It’s important to speak to a specialist if you’re not sure – a reputable company will have someone who can answer all of your questions and provide full background on the piece. You can also read our guide about the factors to consider when purchasing handmade leather goods.
All Billy Tannery leather products are made using full-grain leather and individually hand-finished, which you’ll see from the intricate details in each piece. We also work with carefully selected local leather experts, and pride ourselves on being true specialists in the field of leather making.