Heard in any gelateria: “Are you sure you don’t have a one euro coin?”
In Italy, you never know when you are really going to need small bills and coins, so you hoard them. It’s part of becoming Italian.
“What’s the deal with change in Italy?” ask my touring clients after a day or two in the country. At the gelateria, the newsstand, the post office, museum, and not last nor least, the coffee bar, the customer is quizzed about the possibility of spiccioli (coins), so that no resto (change) is necessary. The person at the cash register is willing to wait until you go through all of your pockets and the bottom of your purse in search of 20 centesimi (cents) or a one euro coin.
Coinage seems to be a rare commodity in almost any shop, eatery, or even the government-run entities in Italy. You may be denied the opportunity to buy a newspaper or a bottle of water if you pull out a 50 euro bill. Even a five euro bill will be met with a frown if you are purchasing an 80 centesimi espresso.
“Mi dispiace, non ho spiccioli” (“I’m sorry I don’t have any coins.”) has become one of my favorite phrases in Italian. After 15 years, I sometimes say it just to spite Italian cashiers, even if I have a pocket full of change.
Italian vending machines frequently don’t give change, despite the fact that there is a coin return slot. Be prepared for a loss if you really need that Coke or candy bar.
The problem seems to stem from the Italians’ dislike of dealing with their banks. Understandable. No one, absolutely no one, wants to deal with the bureaucratic hassles and time suck of the Italian bank, least of all the small business person. A visit to the bank only invites the headache of poor service and a paper trail, two things sought to be avoided by most Italians. But this still doesn’t answer why there is such a hassle regarding change when you are buying stamps or tickets from money mills like the post office or the Uffizi Gallery.
In the 1970s, Italy literally ran out of coins. Banks issued what were called “mini-assegni” or “mini-checks” that took the place of change. These mini-checks looked like monopoly money to replace the small denomination coins that were in short supply. It was not until 1978 that the Italian government produced coins in large enough quantities to meet consumer demand.
Even the priest of two tiny churches in the center of Florence goes to the Jewish-owned grocery store in the neighborhood with his sacks of donation coins to get the amount converted into large denomination bills. It’s a win-win — there is no paper trail for the priest and the store gets a replenished supply of small coins. And neither has to enter the encapsulated security door of the local bank.
Casini Firenze in Piazza Pitti is the Best Destination for Fine Leather Goods
Casini Firenze is my go-to place in Florence for fine Florentine leather goods. When my touring clients ask me why, I simply say: Impeccable Service, Outstanding Quality and Unique Designs. Jennifer Tattanelli, as her father Giorgio before her, creates not only the perfect product, but the perfect shopping experience at the store located across from the Pitti Palace.
Customer service is always top of my list of reasons for recommending any of Florence’s stores, restaurants, or artisans. Florentine business owners, waiters and shop assistants are not known for their “the customer is always right” attitude. At Casini Firenze the customer is not only always right, but becomes a friend of Jennifer and those who work with her.
Year after year, clients, now friends, return to add another jacket or pair of boots or purse to their collection of designs by Jennifer. Many treat themselves to the personal shopping experience offered by Casini and walk away with full wardrobes of shoes, handbags, coats and jackets, dresses, shirts and slacks, not only made in leather, but cashmere, silk, wool and fine cotton. Jennifer and her assistants know at a glance which pieces to show you so as not to waste you precious time in the Renaissance City (or to try the patience of your shopping-adverse spouse, significant other or friends for whom there are comfy chairs and offers of water, soda or wine).
Florence is a city famous for it’s artisans working in gold, paper or leather. Shops selling leather coats and purses have sprung up like porcini after a summer rain. But rather than offering a better product, these flash shops are selling jackets and bags made in China, Indonesia and Morocco. The quality of the leather and the workmanship is suspect. Casini Firenze has its own Tuscan workshop, where skilled artisans work with the finest tanned leathers to create designs by Jennifer Tattanelli.
Not everyone is tall and model-slim. Jennifer’s designing magic takes this into account. Her body-loving designs hide the “flaws” and emphasize the “assets”. Jennifer does not require women to transform their body to suit her creations; she prefers molding her fashion around the woman’s body as it is. She skillfully walks the tightrope between trendy and classical design and has something for every body type. Casini even offers custom fitting and design where you get to chose anything from the color and type of leather, the size of the lapel and the placement of the pockets. Since Casini has its own workshop, the custom-made item will swiftly arrive at your home within a couple weeks.
Giorgio’s Legacy & Jennifer’s Savvy Styling
Giorgio Tattanelli’s dream of owning a store came true in 1971 when he opened Casini Firenze in the prestigious Piazza Pitti. Giorgio has always been a leather artisan. His family’s leather production began just after World War II in 1945 as a small artisan business hand making bags, wallets and attaché cases using a small group of local expert Florentine craftsmen. Giorgio expanded his entrepreneurial ambition by visiting all the trade fairs around Europe, as well as successfully placing his family’s leather accessories in stores on military bases.
Giorgio’s dream was to create and offer a wide variety of traditional Florentine goods, guaranteeing his clients, both men and women, the best quality leather, excellent craftsmanship and a perfect fit at an extremely reasonable price.
In the meantime, he met and fell in love with an American girl from New York, a descendant of both the famed pathologist Dr. James Ewing and Samuel Clemens, better known as the author Mark Twain. She settled in Florence with him and they began a family.
Giorgio’s eldest daughter Jennifer was born in Florence and was brought up speaking English with her mother and Italian with her father. She spent most of the year with her siblings in Florence, but every summer they went to the Hamptons to visit their grandmother June Ewing, a well know artist and famed collector of American Folk Art.
Jennifer began her modeling and fashion career at CK (Calvin Klein) in New York City, but in the early 1990s she returned home to expand the family business with her father. Her imagination, international experience, artistic sensibility (based in the very modern world of NYC and the old-style arts and crafts of her grandmother), appreciation of the quality of artisanal Florentine leatherwork, as well as her design savvy have boosted Casini Firenze to be a unique shopping experience in Florence.
Jennifer personally likes to meet her customers, to discover their tastes and style at work and play, so that she can understand their needs. “Everyone’s lifestyle and body is different, so I like to learn about my clients and work with them individually, creating for them exactly what will make them feel special,” she says.
In 2011, the brand – Casini Firenze by Jennifer Tattanelli – was launched, taking Jennifer to a whole new level of design and products. She introduced a fabric clothing line with fine silks cashmeres, and cottons, and soon will be offering personally designed goods for the home (her crocodile iPad case and leather picture frames are just the first pieces of a planned expansion of artisanal items).
Jennifer lives with her family in Florence and still enjoys taking her children for summers in the Hamptons.
Tuscan Traveler’s Picks from Casini Firenze
My favorite pieces of Jennifer’s recent collections include:
The Intrecciato Pieno Fiore Leather Basket of infinity design. This seamless shopping bag (big enough to be a room accessory for holding magazines or books) is a miracle of historic Florentine leather craftsmanship. Handwoven on a form, each bag takes weeks for the leather artisan to complete. It holds its shape well and is reversible due in part to a seamless construction. The long leather handles make it comfortable to carry and the soft woven leather makes you want to pet it as you make your shopping rounds.
The reversible jackets made of antelope leather light as a feather. The leather tanning process is known as Pieno Fiore. It created a reversible product, which is smooth as silk on one side and soft suede on the other. You get two coats in one. Jennifer’s skill as a stylist comes to the fore with these elegant jackets that come in many different designs, short, long, and full-length, and in elegant, classical, fun and intricate designs. All can be made to measure or bought off the rack. The colors are varied. There is a perfect coat or jacket available for every man or woman. Amazingly, they seem to work for any climate.
The Intrecciato Optical Nappa Satchel is my favorite purse. Sleek, timeless and expertly crafted, it balances with all the outfits, formal and casual, for a local shopping excursion or a long trip to Florence. The adjustable strap and the rounded and soft construction with woven accents gently adapt to the body. The slightly scooped front pocket is cleverly designed to hold an iPad or a paperback book. Zippered on top with one another zippered compartment inside the bag and a tiny inside pocket perfect for a cell phone, this purse is secure in any situation. An extra zippered pocket is located outside in the back for safe storage of your wallet or your passport.
Finally, her footwear selection is fabulous. The boots are to die for! They feel great and are extremely comfortable to wear thanks to the forms that are used. Her evening shoes are glamorous; they add the finished touch to any dress, which is hard to find anywhere else. My favorite shoes are the ballerina flats with the interesting blunted toe, like a real ballet shoe, and the hidden lift in the heel that makes for added comfort while walking the cobblestoned alleys of Florence.
Casini Firenze in the United States
Like her father, Jennifer understands the importance of bringing her collection and accessories to the customer. She undertakes three or four trunk sale tours a year with stops in Boston, New York, South Beach, Dallas, Minneapolis, Aspen and Los Angeles. “Like” Casini Firenze on Facebook to keep track of her travels.