The main, busy streets of Florence are lined with restaurants and high-end fashion stores like Giorgio Armani, Chanel, and Gucci. In between them you are able to smell the rich, smoky leather that some small shops sell.
Italy is home to thousands of leather stores and Florence is home to over 500 of them. These 500 stores do not include the random pop-up stands found throughout Florence. Italy is famous for leather products since the craftsmanship and care for leather is incomparable around the world. This means only the highest quality is used for the products.
Along the cobblestone streets my friend Kaitlin found a store, Benheart, that sells higher-end, handmade leather products for a hefty price. It is considered to be a local favorite. The smell of the store is much lighter and natural than other leather retailers. The walls are covered with unique leather suitcases, greenery, and accessories. The store’s aesthetic is southwestern mixed with European flare to appeal to leather customers. The store overlooks the Arno river and the long bridge that connects the city of Florence.
The people who live around one of their 8 stores in Italy, France, Kuwait, and Tokyo take pride in the brand because of the story that is connected with each item sold from the store.
The creators, Ben and Matteo, were best friends from a young age growing up in Scandicci, an area well known as a fashion hub. Prior to starting the company, Ben underwent a heart transplant and fought for his life. Surviving this surgery inspired the name of the brand. Each product in the store is personalized by the maker and many are made right in the shop.
Kaitlin made 4 separate visits to the shop with the intention of purchasing a certain bag each time. She asked several times if the pocketbook is really worth her euros and debated if her mother would be angry about the expensive purchase. On this trip, everyone discovered how haggling any salesperson is a useful trick in order to buy things to take home. In this case, haggling is not as simple. In the smaller, leather markets that surround the city haggling makes the stands a cheaper alternative to an expensive, yet hand-crafted, leather product.
After so many stops, Kaitlin made friends with the store clerk. Francesco introduced himself as Matteo’s cousin, the creator of the brand. They became fast friends and he answered the several questions Kaitlin asked. Since the bag that she wanted had a two-inch scratch on the outside, Francesco called the other location and had a worker deliver the perfect replica. This experience lasted over 30 minutes. Francesco refused to let Kaitlin walk out with a purse that was not perfect.
Before buying the bag, Kaitlin called her mom, Beth. She could not make the decision of buying the 400 € black leather, medium sized, slouchy bag without first consulting her mother. Kaitlin expressed to her mom that this is THE bag for her. The one she will have years to come. An investment. A serious purchase. To her surprise, what came out of her mother’s mouth over the phone was the opposite of what she expected.
“Life is short. Buy the bag.”
The handmade pocketbook insinuates joy and an extreme confidence boost to a woman who found her way to a foreign country. She leaves with a big smile and a smaller bank account balance. But first she has to get the bag declared through Italy and U.S. customs.