Simone Taddei The Last Artisan in Florence
by Nick Signoriello
Not so long ago, Florence was a city full of master artisans. In 1966, the city experienced its worst flood since 1557, which destroyed millions of masterpieces throughout the city. The flood was so severe that the Ponte Vecchio could not be seen, it was completely under water. Along with the artistic masterpieces, many of Florence’s artisan shops were destroyed.
Being an artisan, someone who makes items by hand as opposed to items that are mass produced, is difficult work to say the least. It normally takes extensive years of practice to be considered a master craftsman. This is important to understanding why so many artisan shops couldn’t be saved after the flood. Although the city paid many of the artisan shop owners to restore their businesses, most of them took the money and opened different types of shops that required less manual labor and promised more economic certainty.
More than 40 years, after the flood, very few artisans have managed to survive . I had the opportunity to meet one of them. His name is Simone Taddei and he is an artisan that specializes in hand crafted leather goods. In Simone’s case, it took him 15 years to fully learn his trade while being an understudy to his father, the talented Giampaolo Taddei. In fact, leather has run in the Taddei family since 1907. His great grandfather, Giovanni Taddei, was a leather shoemaker. When Giovanni’s son (Simone’s grandfather) inherited the shoe shop, he was more interested in making fine leather goods, so, he opened a leather goods shop in 1937. Both Simone and his father followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and still make fine leather goods today.
Simone turned out to be quite a character. We talked about everything from the process of leather making to globalization. Unfortunately for Simone, they go hand in hand. As more products that Simone uses start becoming mass produced, the more limited he is when designing an item. Every leather box he makes on average takes between 32 and 40 steps, and between 20-50 days, varying for different sizes. In the 21st century. I consider this very strenuous work to only sell one item. Although Simone’s work is undoubtedly unmatchable by any mass production leather company, his trade has been greatly affected by globalization. He explained to me how the work he does can’t be appreciated by only a picture on a website. Simone would prefer to explain the process and hard work he puts into a particular picture frame or box, because a photo can’t do his work justice.
Globalization is also affecting his work on a production level. Until last December, he had a carpenter who would make the wooden frames for his products in quantities of eight. This allowed Simone to be flexible when someone wanted to order a customized shape leather box. When Simone lost his carpenter, he had to start doing business with a larger company who won’t give him any less than 20 frames of wood. This means that when someone wants a special sized customized frame, Simone will most likely have to say no because he doesn’t need 20 pieces of that one shape.
Even with these disadvantages, the quality of Simone’s work has allowed his business to survive. All the products he makes are 100% genuine leather, which is something only an artisan can produce. The wooden frame Simone uses to make his products, whether it is a box or picture frame, is eventually taken out at the end when the leather hardens.
As Simone himself would tell you, in order to truly appreciate his work, you have to go to his shop and see him. His shop is on Via San Margherita right across from Dante’s church; he is always willing to have a conversation with you and explain the steps and effort it takes to make one of his pieces. His leather boxes and picture frames are truly of the highest quality.