Should I buy a leather briefcase in Florence or just get it in the U.S.?
February 12, 2015 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm visiting Florence this spring. I've been there before, and love the city. Trying to decide whether to buy a leather briefcase and duffel there, or here in the U.S.? I am not looking for designer, I'm looking for sturdy and made to last.

Last time I was there, I was eager to buy a leather jacket. I bought one at an actual store in Florence for what seemed like a fortune at the time ($200)...and ended up getting a Cole Haan used jacket at Goodwill for $20 a few years later which has ended up being far more sturdy, elegant and long-lasting.

Five years later, the Goodwill Cole Haan jacket is still a staple of my wardrobe and I sent the Italian leather jacket to the thrift store when the stitching started to unravel. Since then, I keep reading about all the Chinese-made knockoffs being sold to tourists in Italy (sometimes even sweatshop-made "leather" made in Italy) and how important it is to be sure you're buying real good leather, and the fact that even if you manage to find the real thing, you won't get a better deal buying it in Florence - you might even get a considerably worse deal than the U.S.

I'd like to buy a leather briefcase and possibly duffle. I'm not interested in designer, but instead things that are made very sturdily. Something that I could imagine using at least for a decade (and ideally more). I'm willing to pay for it - the briefcases I've been looking at in the U.S. retail around $500. Of course, it is tantalizing to imagine buying in Italy - but would I be better off just getting it in the U.S. to make sure I know what quality I'm getting?
posted by arnicae to Shopping (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would look in the US to get ideas of what you like costs. Then when you're in Florence compare prices. If you buy in a store, you'll get a pretty big discount on VAT. You'll have to file some paperwork, but that can help on the price. I've also found that you can get an additional discount for cash.

You might also get a pretty fabulous deal at the Duty Free, either at home on the outbound, or coming back.

Weirdly, I've purchased outstanding leather goods in Korea, so...everything we know is wrong.

So scope out what you really want here, and then if you see something outstanding overseas, and if you can negotiate the VAT, then hey-presto. If not, the Coach Outlet might be just the place for you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:46 AM on February 12, 2015

I bought a leather tote at the San Lorenzo market in 2010 (about 40 euros) and have used it almost daily since then. The handles are showing a good amount of wear, but the bag itself is still going strong (and I have not cared for it delicately, at all). The leather is now buttery soft. I also own leather bags from Coach and Longchamp - while they've also held up, they aren't as "leathery" - they're definitely coated/treated with something that keeps them from getting that soft leathery-ness that the Florence bag has. I also bought a leather wallet while there; still use it; same experience/comparison to "designer" wallets I've owned. Considering the Florence bag was about $60 at the time and the other bags were $300 and $700, respectively, I'd say it was a good deal.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:47 AM on February 12, 2015

Do you know how to examine hardware and stitching?

I would suggest reading up on that, and looking at some examples in real life. (You'll never be tricked by a fake Vuitton again!) Your Cole Haan jacket probably has excellent stitching for you to examine. Before going to Italy, source a couple of briefcases of the type you would like, and keep them in mind as a comparison. If you don't find what you like in Italy, you can always fall back on the American model. Or, you may get lucky in Goodwill again. Thrift stores are indeed an excellent source of good leather items.
posted by BibiRose at 8:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can always take a look at Saddleback Leather ( to see examples of excellent, durable leather goods made here for comparison shopping purposes. I daydream of buying a briefcase from them someday.
posted by oblique red at 11:45 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Saddleback suggestion. To be honest, I'd just get one of their bags if it's in your budget. Without knowing what you're looking for in leather goods, I think it's really easy to be scammed. I don't buy much leather for this exact reason; there's too much expensive garbage out there and I don't have the skills to sort out the really good from the well-disguised crap. I have a few items from Saddleback and they're fantastic.
posted by protocoach at 11:54 AM on February 12, 2015

I would strongly consider alternatives to Saddleback, like Far Horizon, Custom Hide, Marlondo, or any of the many great leatherworkers on Etsy. Saddleback downgraded the quality of the leather a while back and has a history of the owner being a general douche (for example, the "Old Bull" belt description: child abuse is so hilarious, guys!).
posted by schroedinger at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2015

Putting a good word in for leather batchels from the Cambridge Satchel Company, so you know all your options - hand-made in Britain, and reasonably priced. I own a few so memail me if you have questions.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:52 PM on February 15, 2015

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