The first pupils of the School were young orphans of war who were offered hospitality in the “Città dei Ragazzi” in Pisa. They were taught the different types of leather, the art of cutting leather by hand, how to work and create an assortment of leather goods (bags, briefcases, and small leather objects). The more gifted among them were taught how to make more artistic leather objects such as desk sets, jewellery boxes etc. They were also taught the art of gilding using 22 carat gold.
The Leather School of Florence was created in an informal way immediately after the war with the collaboration between the Franciscan Friars of the Basilica of Santa Croce and the Gori family, leather artisans in Florence from the 1930’s.The ancient dormitory designed by Michelozzo and painted by the school of Ghirlandaio inside the Basilica of Santa Croce, was converted into a workshop with counters where Mr. Marcello Gori and the artisans who worked for him in the laboratory “Gori and Casini” started teaching the ancient art of leather craftsmanship.
In May of 1950 The Leather School was formally created and its existence dates from that time. Since then the Gori family started its business inside the laboratories of the School. The contract of shipments the Gori family made with the 6th Fleet (stationed in the Mediterranean), with the Air Force, the 5th army and the American Embassies in Europe contributed to its popularity in the United States. General Eisenhower, then president of the United States, purchased a leather desk set with gold embellishments from the Leather School for the Oval Office in the White House.
Thanks to it’s social efforts and contributions to the Florentine class of artisans, the Leather School obtained the favours of Giorgio La Pira, who was mayor at the time. With his cooperation and encouragement the Leather School and the Italian Foreign Ministry created two year scholarships to teach young people coming from third world countries.
At the end of the 1950’s, in agreement with the ministry of Justice, the Leather School pursuing it’s social pledges, started teaching classes inside Florence’s prison of the Murate and In juvenile detention centres. As a result some young people who were admitted to these re-educational programs are still today working in factories in Tuscany and Veneto and also inside the Leather School itself.
The flood of 1966 damaged the Leather School as it did the entire city of Florence. The Leather School at that time received confirmation of the respect and friendship of then mayor Piero Bargellini, who during a visit to the United States drew public opinion’s attention to the Leather School inside the church of Santa Croce. At the end of the 1960’s, the laws of apprenticeship changed and the School found it’s teaching capacities reduced from over fifty to less than ten students.
The whole district of Santa Croce benefited from the presence of the Leather School. There are many leather shops nowadays, and for this reason, the district is considered Florence’s shopping centre for leather goods. Many stores have copied the Leather School and offer demonstrations to the public on how to guild and personalize with gold initials the items being purchased.