Across Europe, many countries would like to claim that they hold the fashion capital of the continent. Yet, nowhere is perhaps more deserving of that title than Italy, where cities such as Milan foresee the fashionable future, and jewellery, silk, and leather goods are renowned globally for their quality and craftsmanship. This is especially true of Italian leather, which is itself a mark of quality. However, is Italian leather really as good as people say it is? Is it cheaper than leather found elsewhere? And is it actually worth the price it's being sold at?
Italian leather is, as the name suggests, leather made in Italy. It is considered superior to many other types of leather largely because of the way that the cowhide is tanned in the leather making process. Tanning the leather involves a mix of vegetable ingredients, which is why, combined with the techniques that tanners use and the knowledge that they have, that this leather is considered special. The hides are stored in wooden barrels with the vegetable tannins and water for up to three months, kept in a shaded area. There isn't much more known about the process than this, as it is kept a closely guarded secret between the tanners. Their techniques date back hundreds of years to Tuscany, and although the term 'Italian Leather' is protected because of the high quality of leather produced in this way, the term has come to mean less over recent years.
Marketers have realised the importance of the 'Italian Leather' branding as a mark of high price as well as high quality, and that high price means high profit for them. As a result, many have manipulated the system and managed to get leather products of lesser quality classed as 'Italian Leather', making the stamp less of a mark of quality and more of a stamp of country of origin. Manufacturers get leather products made overseas with chemical tanning ingredients for cheaper prices, but then get them finished in Italy, purely so they can say it was made in Italy. As a result, we cannot say that Italian Leather is expensive because of any supposed quality. However, is genuine Italian leather worth its price point? That is the real question after all, especially given the rise in fakeries. Despite this, some fake 'Italian Leather' products that are made in Italy are still considered by many to be of a higher standard than leather found in other regions of the world.
True Italian leather is softer, suppler, and more durable than other leathers, as a result of the tanning process. As a result, genuine products can last for decades if well taken care of. Not only do these factors, as well as the unique tanning process, help to raise the price of such leather goods, but there are also other reasons for such a high price. A key one is the use of natural vegetable tannins rather than chemically produced ones. These are more expensive, as the vegetables have to be grown and harvested in large enough quantities. The also need to be cared for in such a way during that time that they grow healthily regardless of the season (as these days seasons and optimal climates can be easily manipulated in indoor growing environments with various technologies). Regardless of technologies in use, the vegetables still take time to grow, which cannot be sped up, followed by the process that results in the tannins being useable in the tanning process. Chemical tannins on the other hand, can be produced in a relatively short amount of time within a lab, and are not subject to the natural growth period of plant matter. As a result, these tannins, which are used in many other parts of the world, are cheaper to make, buy, and use, and therefore the leather that uses them is also cheaper, albeit not quite as durable or supple as the genuine Italian article, or other places where vegetable tannins are used.
The second key reason that Italian leather is so expensive is, at this point in time, as a result of the name itself. As is so often the case nowadays, being able to own an item that is made of Italian leather (or at least stamped as such) is a social mark of quality, status, and wealth. This is particularly the case with designer handbags, and even more so for those sold by the big fashion houses that call Italy home, where even more pressure and expectation is placed upon them. In a world where everyone continually shares curated social media images of their latest purchases, and luxe items such as Italian Leather goods and bags are even more in demand and even more of a status symbol, as these have become visually accessible to people from all levels of society, not just the super-rich, and therefore desired by a bigger audience of potential customers. As for whether the goods are worth the price sold at, if genuine Italian leather, the product certainly will withstand the test of time and soft to the touch. Beyond that, the question of a product being 'worth it' is largely down to the individual consumer. What an individual is willing to pay, any brand name attached (which will further inflate price) and their own set of values must be taken into consideration when making a purchase, and it is difficult for an outsider to make that judgement for them.
Overall, Italian Leather can be considered more expensive, not cheaper, than other leather goods made elsewhere. There is some speculation over authenticity when it comes to some products within the Italian leather industry, but those that are genuine are often softer, more durable, and of a higher quality than other leathers. High quality may not always equate with a product being worthy of purchase, but Italian leather is a good suggestion for such an equation. It remains popular globally, and is well regarded in high fashion circles, despite often having higher sales prices.