An Italian Handbag Is Still The Best

The desire to own a splendid handcrafted Italian handbag has been flourishing for many centuries. Even as far back as the twelfth century, bags made in Italy were in demand by high society. For example the Parisian court bought its bags and purses exclusively from skillful Italian artisans. Records exist which document very luxurious and costly purses made in Italy which were embellished with gold, precious stones, enamels and silver.

Made in Italy flag

Even today women are resolving their hand bag fetish with a top quality Italian handbag!  An Italian Handbag is still the best you can get.

The Italian Handbag Industry Dates Back to the 12th Century

The first bags were intended to hold money and were presumably made of leather (the Italian word for handbag, borsa, derives from the Greek byrsa which means leather).

16th century purse

The oldest documented record of bag-making in Italy was in the twelfth century where some of the best Italian tanneries for working skins were already in production in cities such as Tuscany. At that time every Italian city had its own quarter of bag makers with the most famous Italian handbag craftsmen being found in cities such as Tuscany, Pistoia, Siena and Pisa. In fact every Italian city where trade and commerce flourished had its own quarter or street of bag-makers (Via dei Borsai). These craftmen were much in demand by high society.

Another city that was prominent in creating Italian bags was Venice, with its bolzieri (the craftsmen who made these bags) and its Arte dei Lavoratori del Cuoio (Leatherworkers’ Guild). Venice was a typically commercial city and its expert artisans made bags of all shapes and sizes, intended for various uses, made in classic skins or in rich cloth (for example velvet, damask and silk), with jewels, pearls, embroidery, lace etc. Soon knitted bags were introduced and in the medieval period bags began to be made with the family crest or the professional guild’s coat of arms emblazoned on them.

Many guilds of crafts and professions were in existence at that time. For example – the Cuoiai e Galigai (leatherworkers), the Correggiai (military leatherworkers), the Sellai (saddlers) and the Calzolai (shoemakers).

The leather used in those days were principally cow and buffalo hide, but more refined skins such as chamois and calf skin were also used,  Even today Italian leather is considered to be the best in the world.

Earlier Italian Handbags 

Bags and purses were called scarselle, dainty purses worn around the neck or at the waist; or bisacce which were used as travelling bags. Many scarselle were made in richly decorated versions and it is these that made the Florentine craftsmen famous: these Italian purses were much appreciated abroad.

16th century bag

During the wealthy Renaissance period of the sixteenth century international trade in bags grew and they began to take on the name of their place of origin for example Florence, Paris, Venice, Tuscany and Ferrara.  

The Italian handbags of this era became objects of fashion and were adorned with more ribbons, fringes, lace, bows and  precious stones. Some were made from more luxurious materials such as velvet, brocade and satin but Italian leather was still used a lot.

As fashion developed, the most popular types of bag were the cartella  and the brachetta. The cartella was an improvement on the medieval scarsella as it was more spacious and had a knife pocket. The brachetta was a bag worn by men, as a codpiece over their pants, where there was room to keep money and a handkerchief.

Later the borsa da matrimonio was created as a bag which would be filled with money as a wedding gift to a bride and groom.

In fifteenth century Venice and then again in seventeenth century France, the manicotti otherwise known as the muff  became very fashionable. Usually of a cylindrical shape, in fabric lined with fur, it was used to keep hands and arms warm and had internal pockets where you could keep small objects and money.  

In the following period, up until the second half of the eighteenth century, bags were no longer used much, but after the French Revolution came the first examples of bags to be worn on the arm called barilotti, looking a bit like the Italian manicotti of fifteenth century Venice, but bigger, though they weren’t very widespread.

With the growth of the bourgeoisie during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, affluent women began to want more elaborate and beautiful purses. From then on in until the present day the demand for designer Italian handbags of all shapes and sizes has been constantly growing.

The Development of the Modern Day Bag

From the end of the nineteenth century the handbag’s attraction was re-discovered and since then it has been in constant use up until today. This was the colonial era and bags in some cases became actual baggage, in other cases they were comfortable and capacious promenade handbags, in leather or fabric, richly decorated and very elegant.

Everything reached a new turning point after the First World War. Pochettes were born as well as the new Italian fashion houses. Thanks to names like Gucci and Gherardini the Italian handbag industry continued to expand, finding new forms and materials. Bags started to be matched with other accessories, designed for particular occasions and times of day, and the muff even came back into fashion in velvet or pony-skin. The Italian artisans continued to hand down the secret of making Italian handbags from father to son.

And it was in Italy in the face of the shortages of materials after the Second World War that the fashion evolved for bags made of imitation alternatives to precious materials: imitation leather, dentice (a type of sea bream) was used instead of crocodile, rospo (toad) instead of ostrich. Hemp, linen and silk were also much used.

Despite the fact that it was Paris that became the center of the fashion world after the Second World War, the Italian artisan traditions, handed down and improved over the centuries, continued to flourish and prosper: in Italy and the rest of the world, Italian handbags were in great demand and the more technology and transport evolved the more people had access to Italian handbags and fell in love with them. Belts, buckles and pockets came into fashion and reptile skins gained ground, alongside calfskin, in which the Italian master leather workers were already more than specialized, and Italian handbags became among the most renowned in high fashion. By now the industrial era had given bags metallic hardware and decorations, snap fasteners and zips.

It was about this time that the concept of an "It bag" became popularAn “It Bag” is an idiomatic term used by the fashion industry to describe a brand or type of high-priced designer handbag by makers such as Chanel, Hermès or Fendi that became popular best-sellers. These must have bags were otherwise known as status bags and gave women a status symbol which they saw as being very important. The “It Bag” was seen as the must-have fashion accessory by celebrities and fashionistas who longed to be seen as the stylists of the year.

Giuliana Camerino bag with the "R" logo

The Italian handbag industry has stood the test of time

Italian handbags haves been a much-used accessory ever since ancient times. The oldest and most thriving Italian cities bear witness to that and still harbour outstanding artisans who specialize in making beautiful purses and bags. 

The artisan traditions in the Italian handbag industry have stood the test of time and are still thriving today. The secrets that make Italian handbags unique and so desired have been handed down from generation to generation so we are still able to enjoy their wonderful skills and benefit from the age old traditions that this craft offers.

Fashions and tastes may have changed throughout the centuries but the refined workmanship and techniques that go into the production of a fine Italian handbag remain unchanged.  Even today there is a craftsman who personally cuts out the leather, another who colours it, and yet another to stitch it, all working skilfully and passionately as a team until the final item completed.  A splendid Made in Italy bag that is a real work of art in itself. Buy yours at the Large Purse Shop


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