The Red Leather Jacket

If you walk around Florence, you see leather goods everywhere. From the cheapest tacky tourist shops to the highest end stores, brilliant leather is on display. It comes in the most luscious colors: butter yellow, creamy orange, brilliant reds, emerald green, glowing teal—in amazing combinations. I just wanted to touch it all, and at times lick it. It looked that good. (Apologies to my vegan readers).

Today was our last full day before our students arrive tomorrow. We spent the morning preparing for the retreat, and in the afternoon, Karyn said she wanted to shop. She wanted to buy a white linen shirt and pair of light white pants, so we set out on foot again for San Nicolo. The neighborhood was full of shops, not just the touristy kind, but ones actually frequented by locals: hardware stores, clothing stores, stationery stores, mixed in with the usual gelato, coffeeshops and restaurants.

While Karyn ducked into a store to try on one more shirt, I decided to check out the leather store next door. Just on a whim. What I was really jonesing for was a pair of smart black Italian boots, something I knew I’d wear. But it’s summer and 90 degrees and all the shoe stores were featuring sandals, none of which looked particularly appealing to me. The truth is I’m not really a big shoe person. Having size 11 feet has dissuaded me from pursuing this fashion option. A pair of smart black leather ankle boots made of soft Italian leather would have been the exception. But it was the wrong season.

But in the window of this store was a beautiful red leather jacket. It’s always been a fantasy of mine to have a red leather jacket so what harm would it do to go in and try one on? I was waiting anyway, and it was hot out on the street, so why not fulfill my fantasy for just a few minutes?

I was the only customer in the shop. The only potential customer. The salesman turned his full attention on me. He was a very handsome Italian man and his English was impeccable. He had me trying on red leather jackets in seconds—over my capri hiking shorts from REI and a very sweaty white cotton shirt.

The first jacket he brought me was bright red and fit my shoulders perfectly, but it was way too small—at least for my taste. I couldn’t zip it closed and mind you—I’m at the bottom of my weight range right now and if it didn’t fit me now, it would never fit me later, like say, after this trip to Italy. So, I had him bring out a bigger one and then an even bigger one. Waist length, soft supple Italian leather. Red. Maroon. Red again.

I was still the only customer in the store, his only potential sale for the afternoon, maybe even for the day, so my sexy salesman began to tell me there were so few Americans in his store these days and the woes of the pandemic and how no one bought leather jackets in the summer. Of course, I started feeling sorry for him. He was a very effective, suave salesperson. He never once stopped talking.

When he saw I didn’t like the tight fit of the fourth coat he’d brought out for me, he went to a different rack and pulled out another coat, this one much longer. It was perfect red suede on one side and soft red leather on the other—reversible. When I put it on, it gave me room to move my arms and the length was perfect on my long frame. It buttoned easily. He brought me over to the mirror to gaze at myself and taught me how to reverse the buttons from one side to the other and as I did it, buttonhole by buttonhole, I felt as if the coat was mine already.

As I began falling in love with the coat and its fine workmanship, Karyn came wandering into the store, sat down and watched this spectacle. She only said one thing, “Laura, when would you wear it?”

When I didn’t answer, the salesman’s smooth voice filled the silence. “And now the price! Because there are so few customers and it is summer and no one is buying leather, I will give it to you for half price.” He flipped up the price tag: 1250 euros. (Probably about 1400 dollars right now.) He wanted it to give it to me for 650. Such a deal!

Now had I walked in there with the intention to spend 700 dollars on a red leather coat? No—of course not. Could I afford it? Not really. I’m not the type of person who buys $700 leather coats. But plastic knows no bounds and it was gorgeous. The bottom of the sleeves and the collar had an intricate woven leather pattern, and the sleeves came all the way down past my wrists, just the way I like it. And despite the fact that it was sticking to my clammy skin and looked ridiculous with my outfit, it was a striking and elegant coat, and most importantly, it made me feel not like a bedraggled sweaty tourist who didn’t bother to learn Italian before I came to Italy; it made me feel striking and elegant.

While I considered whether to buy, he never stopped talking. He whispered to me about the quality of the leather, he showed me how to clean the coat—both the leather side and the suede side. He explained how it would repel water, how no one else would have a coat like mine. How I’d always remember my time in Italy. As I said, he was really good at his craft. I only hope that my blog post is half as good as he was as convincing me to buy that coat.

As I stood there with the beautiful red leather coat on my shoulders, hanging perfectly on my long frame, I thought about all the other purchases I’ve made on my travels. The stunning muted multicolored cape I brought back from Scotland, which I never wear because it never gets cold enough to wear it in Santa Cruz, and it’s far too big to pack on a trip to the east coast. The black leather jacket I had made to order for my body in Bali (for $125 mind you) it’s a sexy jacket that only fits me sometime—when I’m thin—and I hardly ever wear it, not because I don’t love it, but because Santa Cruz is down jacket/casual cotton sweatshirt weather. So, the handmade leather coat I already bought while traveling rarely comes out of the closet. Did I need another leather coat—a red one, no less? Am I really a fancy red leather coat kind of woman? My current wardrobe insists otherwise.

In my years of traveling, I’d come to recognize the kinds of purchases we cherish and use on a daily basis: beautiful pottery (from Mexico and Italy), made to order curtains for the bathroom (Bali), special linens and a living room rug (from Turkey), a wool throw blanket and sweaters (from Scotland). All these purchases are ones we’ve savored and enjoyed for years. But clothing I would normally never wear at home—always a mistake—like the huge suede ankle-length Bedouin coat I bought in Jordan while visiting our daughter, designed to withstand sand storms and freezing desert nights. You can just imagine how much I used that once I schlepped it all the way back to Santa Cruz.

As my rational brain kicked in, I could feel my desire for the coat deflate. I took it off. I set it on the table. But my salesman wasn’t giving up. He demonstrated how small it folded. He said he’d ship it to me for free to the States. He said if I paid half in cash and half with a credit card, he’d drop the price to 600 Euros. “We’re only making 100 Euro profit,” he told me.

And so, as if in a trance, I tried the coat on one more time.

That’s when he pulled out a cigarette lighter to demonstrate on a man’s leather bomber jacket how to tell if it is really true leather and has no synthetic in it. He lit the lighter and held it up against the sleeve. He said if it wasn’t pure leather, it would begin to pucker and bubble. His coat did not. That did it for me. His little showman trick truly broke the spell.

All I had to relinquish now was my desire to please this poor salesman who had invested at least half an hour wooing me. I’d never been wooed by a sexy Italian before. But it was too late. I’d made up my mind. I’d broken the trance.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, “I’m not going to take it. Thank you for taking so much time with me. You’re very good at your job.” He surrendered graciously and we left the shop.

As we walked away down the cobblestones, I felt free and unencumbered, with no regrets. I let go fully and completely. I sang out to Karyn, “I’m so glad I didn’t buy it. And the best part is that anything else I consider buying on this trip is going to feel cheap in comparison.”

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