Confession: I am addicted to leather handbags. Can one ever have too many purses? I think not - and especially if they are as beautifully handcrafted as the bags at Ibiz in Rome.
Fulvio and Simonetta Nepi began making simple, Tolfa style leather bags back in the 70's. These bags were functional, utilitarian bags originally used by cacciatore (hunters) but the style caught on and soon everyone wanted this style of bag.
(one of Fulvio's original Tolfa bags, with leather stitching)
The demand was enormous - Fulvio sold his bags at the Porta Portese market, and on a table in Piazza Navona. At that time he was making the bags at home, even dying the leather with the help of his parents in their kitchen sink! He bought a used, foot-petal operated, sewing machine once owned by a Hollywood costume-maker who used it to stitch the costumes for Ben Hur! (The machine is still used in the shop today but now heavy cotton thread has replaced leather.)
In 1972, after returning to Rome from a trip to the island of Ibiza, Fulvio and Simonetta decided to rent a small storefront on the Via di Chiavari . What began as a hobby soon turned into a real business. Eventually they bought the storefront next door and continued to provide stylish Romans, as well as many tourists, with authentic Italian leather bags (and soon, leather chairs) made right on-site, in their workshop.
In 2001, business had slowed - Fulvio and Simonetta wanted to pursue different careers and they considered closing shop. But luckily, their daughter Elisa decided to take over and try to make a go of it. Elisa is a rare breed - she did not want to see the Italian tradition of hand made leather-craft lost. She explains that at one time Italy was known for its artisan leather shops. Italians were good at working with their hands. But the lure of big money was too strong and many Italians sold their shops, often to foreigners. Today Chinese imports flood the market and shops like Ibiz are few and far between.
The high quality leather and craftsmanship that were the hallmark of her father's original shop remain. Elisa and Fulvio (who is back working part-time at the shop) hand select the supple leather from the best tanneries in Tuscany. While the traditional bags and briefcases can still be found at Ibiz, Elisa is constantly on the look out for new trends and styles. The ideas are her own, the designs are original and unique ... although they are often quickly copied! What does she think about others copying her designs? She shrugs it off and says that is what keeps her creative, keeps her interested in the work - always looking for something new, something different.
In addition to the luscious, colorful assortment of leather purses and briefcases, she also designs belts, wallets and coin purses, and other small leather objects like fun key chains shaped like roses, tulips, or lilies (which are light, easy to pack, and make great gifts ...) Most recently she started designing colorful leather sandals.
Today Elisa reports that her main customers are tourists - not only from America, but many from Northern Europe, Japan, even Canada. Ibiz does not have a website, mail-orders are rarely taken, and they no longer do made-to-order bags (too costly). Elisa likes it that way - she maintains better control over the quality and quantity of her creations and she likes the face-to-face relationship she has with her customers. And I like it too! As if I need another reason/excuse/justification to buy a bag there, Elisa is incredibly generous and kind. I like what she stands for and I want her shop and others like it to succeed.
By the way, the bags are not only beautiful, but they are made to last - the first bag I bought from Elisa looks as good today as it did the day I bought it back in 2002. So, how many purses can one girl have? I will let you know when I get close.