Thursday, 16 May 2013

A very special Italian bag

Four years ago, on 28 April 2009, I bought a shoulder bag in a shop in Florence, while on that cruise with Dad. It was intended as a gift for M---, who had been left behind in the UK. She was already distancing herself from me, and, being a person of principle, felt unable to accept a fairly expensive present when our relationship was, in her view, falling apart. I'd also bought her some amber jewellery, and she felt the same about that too.

So she returned the bag to me, and ever since then it has been lying unused in one of my bedroom drawers, inside its protective cotton bag.

It was impossible to part with it: it had been a gift for someone very special to me, and was completely associated with her. I absolutely couldn't pass it on to anyone else, nor donate it for resale. It didn't occur to me to use it myself - that seemed equally taboo.

And then, yesterday, I changed my mind. I was having a good sort-out of my wardrobes and cupboards and drawers, and was bundling things up to take to a local charity shop. I was determined to jettison anything that I never wore, or never used. But when it came to this bag, I still hesitated. M--- would never now ask me for it, but, as always, I could not part with it. All right then, why not start using it myself? So I have been. Or at least I will give it a week's intense trial, and then, if it works well, I'll adopt it as my main everyday bag (the black Prada bag being kept as always for posher occasions).

Here it is:

It really is bright orange, which makes it distinctive and eye-catching, and definitely not boring. The leather of the bag is quite thick, but pliable, although still stiff enough to let the bag stand up on its own, and not flop around. The brown leather strap is wide and substantial, with nice brasswork. The bag can be zipped shut, to keep out sneaky thieving Florentine fingers. Inside, there are two main compartments, both deep, separated by a zippable divider that sundry small odds and ends could go into. Two open pockets, and one stout zippable pocket. Purse, phone, camera and cosmetic bag presently go into one main compartment, along with with tissues and a spare camera battery in the open pockets; the other main compartment is available for such things as an umbrella, or a cardigan, and it also swallows my tablet with ease. It's a practical, well-designed bag that works equally well on either shoulder. 

The gimmick with this bag is that it is vegetable-tanned - presumably they used a carrot (see for a run-down on the different ways leather can be processed) - and it has a guarantee certificate that reads as follows:

This guarantee certifies that the leather used in this product has been processed with complete respect of both man and environment. The secrets of the vegetable extracts used in the tanning produces a slow and natural process which maintains the original properties of the leather unaltered, enhancing its quality and fragrance. The unique characteristics of the softness, warmth and resistance are assured over the course of time. In the antique heart of Tuscany, between Pisa and Florence, the tanners, loyal to this centuries old tradition, combine artisan craft with technological innovation. Always in harmony with nature for a better quality of life. Principals that the genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium defends and promotes.

While something may have been lost in translation, I still feel good that traditional artisans have defended their principals - or should that be principles?- when making the leather for my bag. I hope it will be a bag that lasts a long time, even though Wikipedia suggests that vegetable-tanned leather may not take kindly to the wet British climate. I don't want to trek back to the shop with a complaint. It was, by the way, a shop called Simone in the Via Dè Guicciardini, Florence, near the Ponte Vecchio. Google Maps and Google Street View can show you exactly where to find it:

I remember they were very civil to me in the shop, even more so after I'd handed over 115 Euros (at the time about £100). I'm sure they'd be just as civil to you too. In fact, to every tourist. Charming people, Florentines.


  1. My mother in law had a Florentine bag story. Being aware of a certain reputation of the local lack of respect for ownership she wrapped the strap of her bag several times round her arm and held it close. Just as well because a cyclist swept past as they crossed a quiet square one evening and got a surprise when the bag failed to go with his arm. sadly his loss of control was not fatal as it should have been for bringing cycling into disrepute!

  2. Ohh, a bag to die for! It looks an excellent size and the strap won't dig into your shoulder. I don't know how you could have let it rest for so long.

  3. Caroline, I think most of these theft stories are just a smear by jealous Romans on the Florentine character, but I have to admit Florence was a pickpocket's or snatch-thief's paradise.

    Anji, I regarded this bag as M---'s and completely sacrosanct. Only the passage of four years has modified my attitude towards it. I thought it was a dreadful shame that a decent bag like this - brand new - was not getting the use it deserved. Now it will. And it will be rare in the UK for two reasons: it's a locally- made Italian bag that Debenhams or House of Fraser won't ever have stocked, and it's a bag from the past, not cut or coloured for 2013.

    I love the rich orange colour, and I'm glad I didn't get it in one of the other colour choices, such as pink, or bright lime green! (Although M--- would have hated those other colours)


  4. Material things are there to be used Lucy, not kept hiding in a drawer. It may have sentimental value but it still should be used otherwise it is a useless purchase. It is such a nice bag and practical too, shame not to get your money's worth out of it. Remember too that a gift does not belong to the recipient until they accept it!
    Shirley Anne x

  5. Since you're not a 'black' girl (well, I've never seen you in black) I believe this bag will suit you very well. And whilst the associations with M-- will always be there, I suspect that making it your own will lessen the feelings of the past. Good move, Lucy. May it give many years of useful service in our inclement climate.


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