Italian Craftsmanship: The Dying Art of Italian Woven Leather Bags

The use of fashionable handbags dates back for centuries. Catherine de Medici inadvertently pushed her home city of Florence to the forefront of the leather market when she arrived in Paris in the mid 1500s to marry the French King Henry II. She carried her dowry in seamlessly handcrafted leather boxes. However, the love affair with style as well as utility truly began in the late 1800 early 1900’s with the change of hemlines, womens rights, and worldwide events. The European market responded quickly to this fashion request.

Many important modern day designers made their debuts, and their innovative creations have yet to fade with the passing times. Many fashionistas worldwide are probably fairly familiar with Bottega Veneta, the leading premier designer label that produces soft woven leather bags. Cosci, however, historically speaking started creating the signature leather weave bags before Bottega Veneta became a premier name in fashion. Many such bags have the same style of woven leather, and apart from in vogue designing, the art of weaving soft leather strips into magnificent bags is relatively the same, though the amount of artisans that create them are dwindling. Woven leather designs are a testament to the classic lines of timeless handbags. The method of weaving leather strips, soft or stiff, is a type of art form that is slowly becoming extinct.

Recently, the Cosci label and factory have been acquired by the Gucci Group, the fashion subsidiary company of PPR who also owns Bottega Veneta. However, their remaining stock contains a type of bag who’s artisan work cannot be thrown by the wayside. Cosci’s Italian leather basket weave motif dates back hundreds of years to the eastern Italian coastal area of Macerata, an area also famous for their leather shoe production.

Italian leather baskets implement many techniques of basket weaving that are not present in the designs of soft woven leather bags. Instead of weaving a large sheet of leather, cutting it, and piecing it into a bag pattern, the leather baskets utilize the old style wooden block cuts to weave the bags from the base up. Artisans place the wooden block that corresponds to the intended shape of the bag bottom up. They then use one thin nail to attach the initial strip of leather at the mid point of the wooden block, allowing the strip to lay horizontally across the base of the block. From that point they start to weave the bottom with strips of leather, alternating between horizontal and vertical strips. Once the base has been woven, they flip the block right ways up, and continue the process of tightly weaving the strips around the block till they reach the top. Depending on the style of the bag, the leather strips are either manipulated to create a woven pattern lining at the top, or cut to allow for the lining to be added later.

The vacchetta leather used for basket weaving is a stiffer leather, which makes the designs not only more durable, but also lends to the actual feel of a straw basket. Leather baskets come in a variety of different designs and shapes, as well as colors. The majority of leather basket bags have an elongated strap drop. The elongated strap length allows the bags to be worn as a satchel or cross-body bag, lending to utility as well as design and fashion.

So the next time you pick up a woven leather handbag from Italy, you should quickly be able to pick out three points of quality. If it is a nappa leather bag the feel of the leather should be soft with a rich non-chemical smell. The same is true for basket woven leathers, though the leather will not be as soft. Secondly look for telltale signs of a seam in the basket weave bag. This is the indication of a machine made bag. Nappa leather is woven in sheets and cut, so seems are necessary in the construction of the bag. Lastly look for the tag “Made in Italy”. This tag carries with it a certain guarantee that the bag comes from a long tradition of leather artisans.

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