Tucked into an easy-to-miss shop near the Pantheon in Rome is leather goods maker Federico Polidori. Inside you will find a small selection of hand made items for purchase, but what Polidori really specializes in are beautiful custom made bags, holsters and all sorts of other high quality leather items. The shop is more workshop than retail space, with Federico’s workbench taking up a good amount of space in the main room. When I walked in I was instantly captivated by the product and started to bug the man with questions. He was gracious and patient with my questions, and my very limited grasp of the Italian language.
While it wasn’t easy for Federico or his wife Roberta to understand me, it was easy to see that the bags, wallets, belts and other items they make are very high quality. Leaving without buying something would have been criminal.
The more I travel, the more difficult it becomes to find anything truly local and unique. These are the days of Starbucks (though thankfully, you don’t see much of that in Italy) and globalization, so when you take a trip a lot of what you see if the same as it is at home. It’s an increasingly depressing reality. To wander down via Piè di Marmo and find Polidori was the ultimate pleasure for a guy like me. Right away I could tell the passion that goes into each piece. Federico was welcoming and didn’t mind me taking pictures, unlike a lot of the insecure “progressive” stores that are out there. Having grown up only 300 meters from his shop, he told me he has been making leather goods as long as he could remember and that his father worked with horses which is where he picked up his craft.
The things at Polidori that really struck me were the leather woven items. You can see a photo below of a woven bag that Federico made 30 years ago and has aged perfectly. He told me that there are only two people in the world making bags like this by hand, him and some French outfit called Hermès. The hand woven pieces are the most costly items from Polidori, but far and away the most unique. I ended up leaving with a woven leather travel wallet that I couldn’t bring myself to part with.
To wander down a street in Rome and stumble upon a man who has spent the last thirty years quietly making some of the finest leather goods in the world, was a remarkable experience that I couldn’t wait to share. If you find yourself looking for the Pantheon, make a diversion to see Federico. It’s about as special as anything you will see in the Eternal City.