Tour the Handcrafted Side of Florence
From tailoring to woodwork, the city’s rich artisan traditions are alive and well. Here are six you should know about.
Getting to the bottom of what makes Florence’s treasured artisans more relevant than ever requires an understanding of the centuries of creative tradition still thriving in this small city. Preservation of the artists’ ways come under the helm of Florence’s Osservatorio dei Mestieri d’Arte, which over the years catalogued and created a road map for visitors of thousands of ancient and modern masters. Here are six that visitors to Florence shouldn’t miss.
Pestelli, Via Borgo SS. Apostoli 20r
Jewellers have a significant stronghold in Florence. Though some of their workshops are minuscule, like Pestelli (founded in 1908), they command an outsize legacy of classic style while still following fashion trends. The Pestelli family are known for their gem-studded rings and pendants, but also for curiosities like polished stone bowls accented with platinum and jewels. One of the best times to visit is during Florence’s Pitti Uomo men’s fashion week, when the jeweller unveils its latest creations.
Bartolozzi e Maioli, Via dei Vellutini 5r
What can a person do with decades of focused apprenticeship, artistic imagination and a piece of unhewn wood? Find out when you arrive to Bartolozzi e Maioli, a five-minute stroll from Florence’s massive Pitti Palace. Walk into the lumber laboratory and you’re overwhelmed by thousands of angels, cherubs, curly cornices and acanthus crown mouldings, all chiselled and gilded by hand. Past clients such as the Russian Kremlin, which hired the workshop to rebuild thousands of intricate pieces for a fire-damaged regal room, are a testament to the wood artisan’s reputation.
Sartoria Marinaro di Mario Sciales, Via Tornabuoni 7
Much of the charm of travelling is finding characters like Mario Sciales, a modest but very well-known men’s tailor from Naples, Italy, who came to Florence more than five decades ago. He began apprenticing in Naples at the age of ten, and now, in his late 60s, Sciales is not only the go-to man for the most exquisitely tailored men’s jackets, pants and shirts, he is also solicited by well-known brands for his sartorial advice and expertise.
Il Papiro, Via Cavour 49r
Stationery has been one of Florence’s artisanal hallmarks for decades, or in the case of Il Papiro, since 1976. It’s a beautiful thing to witness colourful marbled paper and thick, embossed stationery being made. And though the company is growing, its spirit and design sense are quintessentially Florentine. You can even take paper-making classes at any of the six Florence locations.
Le Pietre nell’Arte, Via Ricasoli 59r
Add the art of making brilliant mosaics to the kaleidoscope of Florence’s many talents. Since 1972, Le Pietre nell’Arte, run by the Scarpelli family, is known locally and globally as one of Florence’s oldest and most respected workshops. Their reputation comes from decades of expertise in the art of stonework, from selecting the right local materials to designing and assembling a flawless finished product. The family welcomes travellers to organise workshop visits to get a flavour of the complicated artistic process (some pieces take up to three years to complete). The Scarpellis work collaboratively with their clients, encouraging them to offer input and even work with workshop mosaicists to create personalised masterpieces.
Gucci Museo, Piazza della Signoria 10
To survey the great history of small Florentine artists without mentioning Gucci is to leave out a critical player in modern Florentine crafts. Yes, the company is now a global brand, but its roots are in Florence. At Gucci Museo, which opened in 2011, visitors can sift through this luxury brand’s early beginnings, from handmade dresses to opulent picnic baskets. There’s even a wing celebrating the company’s famous loafer shoes. Downstairs, visitors can dine, sip coffee or wander through the bookshop, and a tiny boutique offers a made-to-order handbag service.