The handcrafting of leather goods is a long-established tradition in the city of Modena.
Guarded by the Ghirlandina, the cathedral’s bell tower, Modena’s artisans have specialised in the transformation of precious crocodile and ostrich skins into luxury creations: designer bags, wallets and other small leather goods. Though most laboratories have become suppliers to big brands, 56-year-old Omar Baraldi perpetuates the concept of the Renaissance workshop in corso Canal Grande, the historic heart of the city. Baraldi founded his workshop, “La vacchetta grassa”, in 1979, and he manufactures leather goods exclusively under his own label. The shop is located on the ground floor, while the production is carried out on the mezzanine, in a fascinating atmosphere dominated by the perfume of vegetable-tanned leather and ancient tools. Baraldi and his craftsmen are specialised in the working of cattle leather, which comes from Tuscany, and of precious skins like ostrich, eel and especially stingray, with which they make wallets that are real works or art.
Craftsmen in the third millennium must conjugate different qualities: entrepreneurship, technical skills, the ability to combine image and quality in a consistent way...
The development of many Italian historic centres may well depend on the craft industry.
Where does Modena’s leather manufacturing tradition stem from?
Vegetable tanned cowhides and their working developed in the streets of the city’s centre, where abundant water, indispensable for the processing of leather, used to flow. In the course of the centuries, tanneries were gradually replaced by leather manufacturing workshops. Although I was not born into a family of leather goods manufacturers, I was literally bewitched by a scrap of cowhide that I came across when I was in art school. That’s when I decided that I would dedicate myself to this activity, starting from scratch. The workshop that you see today is the result of a renovation work that was carried out last year. In 1979 the workshop was simply one room measuring 9 square metres, and little by little we grew to a total of 200 square metres. Today, three craftsmen work in the workshop that is attached to the shop.
Who buys your products?
Having chosen not to supply big brands nor to work as contractors, most of our production is sold directly in our shop. We offer a selection of “classic” products, which are musts in a leather-goods shop, together with items that are more “fashion”. A small part of our production is expressly made for the Japanese market. Our clientele used to be very local, but in time we have attracted an increasing number of tourists, especially from Asia. I like to think that they come to visit Modena non only because it is the home of Ferrari, but also to admire our workshop and buy our bags, belts and wallets.
Do you think that the world is rediscovering artistic craftsmanship?
I believe so, but at the same time I think that there is no future for the traditional artisan. It takes a more entrepreneurial approach, which I developed taking special courses organised but the state and by trade associations like the Cna. Craftsmen in the third millennium must conjugate different qualities: entrepreneurship, technical skills, the ability to combine image and quality in a consistent way, and, as far as possible, the capability to invest in communication, in order to develop their potential beyond regional boundaries. I also believe that it is essential to be located in the city centre, in order to exploit the opportunities that the tourist trade can offer to our economy. The development of many Italian historic centres may well depend on the craft industry.
What prospects do you see for your activity in the future?
When my workshop became self-sufficient, I started looking for young people to whom I could teach what I had learned in thirty years. I owe it also to them if I decided to invest in this laboratory, enlarging it. I would like to transform my workshop in a leather school, because the history of Italy is connected to that of leather, it identifies us. We must keep it alive and transmit it to the next generations. We must stop hiding, because if we continue to be afraid to show ourselves in public, we could cause the end of a millennial tradition. If we do not showcase our skill, how can we expect customers to come looking for us?