Since 1980 Arte&Cuoio workers have handled and cut and stitched leather using traditional Tuscan techniques, to find a way to create a line of sophisticated, "unique" pieces. Pieces which represent a world in love with nature and steeped in culture. Synonymous with refined yet sombre elegance.
Leather plays a starring role at Arte&Cuoio...
This strong, natural, and flexible material should always be handled with expertise, and intelligence (from the Latin: inter ligere = reading within) and entails a blend of essential skills making hand-made pieces (manufacturing), hard work (labour) and ingenuity (artificium) so as to give this material its distinctive identity highlighting its many qualities.
As a result, leather, which is a truly stimulating material, in that it is alive and constantly changing, demands a new design approach that should be not only highly creative but also needs to think in terms of experimenting and using research into new technologies.
This is how Arte&Cuoio came to be founded roughly thirty years ago, in what might be called a typically Italian scenario. It started as a company experimenting in design and manufacturing, and soon branched out: after the first boxes and diaries in leather were made and sold (1969-1970) came the Arte&Cuoio shop-cum-workshop which was set up in Pesaro, soon adding a line of storage containers in 1974. In 1980 Arte&Cuoio made its first appearance at the Milan furniture trade fair and, ever since then many of its products have been awarded prestigious prizes winning them international recognition.
The resulting pieces are born out of a strong grasp of the complex nature this traditional material teamed with careful research into the latest available technologies, all the time never losing sight of present day concerns, so that, in recent years, a strong emphasis has been place on both environmental issues and on a need to reclaim our cultural heritage.
Arte&Cuoio: in search of real leather, real Italian vegetable-tanned hide
Appealing to the senses of sight, smell and touch, the distinctive nature of leather makes it important to seek out top quality raw materials.
The choice of full grain hide (primo fiore), the outer and most precious part of the hide, has led us to areas of Tuscany that lie between Florence and Pisa, Santa Croce on the river Arno and Ponte a Egola, where traditionally they work on raw hides which have, in turn, been imported from Germany, Holland, France and Switzerland.
Such top quality leather bears the markings (veins and scars) that clearly show its natural origins whilst, at the same time, making each piece unique in both its patterning and patina.
The hides are treated using traditional techniques, with tallow (an animal fat) and tannins extracted from the barks and trunks of many trees (such as mimosa, chestnut,..: which is why the process is known as "vegetable tanning"). The hide is dipped several times into different wooden casks; then it is air dried and dyed with a gentle procedure using only natural colours, and, after it is drawn and thinned over steel and wooden rollers in a process known as "palmellatura" it is then softened with the fine oils and animal fats using a special broad-stripped cloth mop known as a "fiocco". The final process is leather polishing, which again uses traditional methods, with wooden and glass tools, guided by the hands of skilled craftsmen.
This whole process can take up to several weeks which is why it tends to be known as "slow tanning", it is this method that gives leather its famously strong scent.
A good deal of attention is paid to the definition of the range of colours, especially given leather's natural "viraggio" i.e. a tendency for colour and appearance to change over time, this distinctive feature can only be seen in naturally treated leathers.
Full grain hide can also be made either thinner or thicker, adding layers if needed to make it more robust. In an experimental approach we have inserted different inner cores into the designs in various different materials such as aluminium, lead and wood, so that the leather becomes both stronger and also more pliable.
The leather is then ready for use and can be shaped by cutting and hand-trimming (this is one of the most distinctive features of Arte&Cuoio products; once ready the leather is given linear stitching (done by hand, using flexible cobblers' needles and Danish thread placed over a hollow waxed mould), and is then glued with a water and rubber latex glue.
Our philosophy is to apply careful research to this top quality raw material to create truly original designs with both a formal rigour and a practical essentiality (virtually pre-empting minimal design), so that each and every design is both elegant and user-friendly.
The basket motif used in1996 to make these containers woven in thick leather in mimics traditional baskets for collecting chestnuts; the hand-framed and interwoven bands are shaped into round and square baskets of all shapes and sizes, a job which takes hours of careful hand-stitching and machine work, the same technique can also be used to make bedside mats, that gently massaging the soles of the feet as you step over them and can also be used to cover seats so you can sit back and relax or read in true comfort.
Leather: what kind of products can it be used for?
It was not easy to decide which product types to focus on given that we had written ourselves a brief of taking this highly innovative approach; but in re-styling traditional leather artefacts we have been able to highlight their true quality.
This is why Arte&Cuoio has a line of designs such as diaries, notebooks, photo albums, made both in thin and extra thick leather, as well as files in smooth tumbled leather and poster holder tubes all of whose clean essential lines emphasise their extreme practicality.
Arte&Cuoio has become known for its line of storage containers: round, oval and square hard leather boxes, available in different sizes, with the sturdy inner core in "salpa" ( a type of ground and pressed leather). These are designs which cannot be made overnight, each one is slowly created step by step, cutting and piecing together the parts in a painstaking approach with a skill the company takes pride in. Arte&Cuoio added leather bowls to its collection, made with two leather sheets which are glued and pressed together, then trimmed and hand-stitched on all four sides.
Lacquered oak was used to create a deliberately traditional desk set for the Enrico collection; whereas, Junglans Nigra (American Black Walnut) is used for both the desk set and boxes in the Noce collection. Contrasting such traditional set pieces are concept pieces using aluminium in the Lama collection, where an essential and extra thick leather is used thanks to modern new moulding techniques.
Another highly innovative change has also been added with the application of a machine created for "leather breaking", which has been useful in the design and manufacture of trays in unrefined hard leather, with flexible lead inner cores that can be easily shaped, likewise the paperweight Stropiccio can be moulded into any shape you want, so that it can double up as a stress-busting desk toy.