What is so Special About Italian Leather?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Italian leather is famous around the world, as are a multitude of products made from it, ranging from shoes to car upholstery. Given the diversity of leather products available on the market, and the very high cost of Italian leather, some people are led to wonder what makes it unique, and whether or not it is worth the added cost. The primary distinction of Italian leather is its quality. Leather producers in Italy consistently produce very high quality products, in contrast with sometimes spotty production in other regions of the world.

Florence is known for its leather.
Florence is known for its leather.

Leather is made by subjecting the hide of an animal to a lengthy treatment process. People have been working with leather for thousands of years, and Italy has been famous for leather production for centuries. Florence is particularly famous for its leather, and in Milan, Italy's capital of fashion, Italian leather is used almost exclusively by high fashion houses. Italian brands tend to dominate the fashion world, so Italian leather has come to be closely associated with quality, fashion, and good taste.

Italian leather is often used to make men's dress shoes.
Italian leather is often used to make men's dress shoes.

Producers in Italy use a variety of labor sources, with much of the process of leather production being done by hand. Hides are carefully inspected before treatment, with only the best hides being accepted, and quality checks are carried out at every stage of the way. Many producers specialize in full grain leather — leather from the top of the hide, which is famous for its suppleness and quality. Italian producers tend to use high quality dyes and chemicals in their products, producing consistent, durable, long-lasting leather products.

Italian leather may be used to make handbags.
Italian leather may be used to make handbags.

Italian leather does not just dominate the fashion community. It also a standard in luxury cars, many of which are made in Italy or by Italian companies, and for home furnishings. Thanks to the associations with chic culture, some people are willing to pay a premium for products made with Italian leather, perpetuating the market and promoting the maintenance of high standards at facilities which process it.

Italian leather products are of higher quality than other leather items.
Italian leather products are of higher quality than other leather items.

There has been some controversy over leather production techniques used in Italy. Some critics have suggested that producers may contract much of the work out to overseas companies, finishing the leather in Italy so that it can be stamped "made in Italy," which can detract from the overall quality. In Italy itself, several producers have been accused of using illegal labor, and of maintaining unsafe working conditions to cut costs. This is a perennial problem in nations with tough labor laws, as producers want to save money where they can while capitalizing on the appeal of products which originate from particular countries and regions.

A real Italian leather chair can last for decades.
A real Italian leather chair can last for decades.
Many Italian leather producers specialize in full-grain leather.
Many Italian leather producers specialize in full-grain leather.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


To all the vegetarians who are moaning about people buying leather: I eat meat. If the cow is dead for me to have my beefburger anyway, why not use the skin to make something beautiful instead of wasting it? I'm going to be eating burgers anyway. Get over it.


@anon156607: FYI, Our Lord God Jehovah created the animals for our use. In fact, in the Bible after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden they were given coats of skins (Gen.3:21). So that said, a cow is one of the most useful animals we have on this planet. --rt


People tend to forget that all Italian leather varies. Leather can still be classed as 'Italian Leather' even when it is imported from other countries such as china, as long as it's dyed in Italy. True Italian leather is sourced, dyed and made into products in Italy. The best type of leather is full grain (this is the thickest section of the cow hide).

Italian leather is also considered good because cows are in controlled pastures rather than free to roam, which means there is far less scarring on the finished product. --Maxwell S.


It's important to understand that the cows are not bred for the hides, but the meat. The leather is. in fact a by-product. The hides themselves are actually worth pennies compared to the rest of the cow. Hope this information helps.


@ anon156607: Good of you to post this. Like oil and other commodities given us by our animal brethren, we would be wise to be mindful of all natural resources that we consume. Any animal that has given its life so that we may have its hide must have that hide prepared as well as possible. Otherwise, the animal would have died in vain. The Italians tend to prepare their leather very well.


Peter here, just putting in a loving word for all the beautiful animals whose carcasses are carved up and distributed around the world like some meaningless commodity.

Please, all you beautiful people hankering after your leather products, spare a thought for your fellow creature who had to give up his or her life so that you can get your nice gloves or your fancy Italian leather shoes. There are dozens of alternatives to leather, each more animal and planet friendly, and more aligned to the sensitive and beautiful people that I know you all are, deep down.


Africa, particularly Uganda, has hides and skins but does not have a perfect processing plant and handling of hides/skins is very poor, thus this explains why quality is poor! Can Italy intervene? We like Italian leather products, especially shoes and ladies' handbags.


@galen84basc: I'm sure there are upscale brick and mortar stores that sell italian leather gloves, but whether in your area I wouldn't know. If you Google "Italian Leather Gloves" you will find many online sources. You could also Google "Men's Italian Leather Gloves" or "Women's Italian Leather Gloves."


Does anybody know where I can get some nice Italian leather gloves in America?

I, sadly, won't be heading to Italy any time soon, but I'd really love to get some nice driving gloves.

Do I just have to order them online, or are there stores for this kind of thing?


I've heard of Italian leather luggage, but I think I would worry too much about it to actually use it.

I mean, we all know what happens even to regular luggage -- it goes through the ringer!

I can't imagine spending that much money on some nice luggage and then seeing get all beat up.


My wife is always talking about how much she wants an Italian leather purse.

I guess to me a bag is just a bag, whether it's an Italian leather bag or whether it's a regular bag from the mall.

Though of course those Italian leather jackets do look pretty nice...

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