With such a booming beef industry, it should come as no surprise that, along with some very tasty steak, Argentina produces some great leathers and Buenos Aires is a leather shopping heaven. Since inflation rates are high, prices have unfortunately risen significantly in the last few years but you can still find some good deals on leather, providing you know where to go. Here are our tips for shopping for leather in Buenos Aires.
Shop the weekend markets
For some unique, affordable leather souvenirs such as belts, wallets, bags and other small accessories, check out the city’s weekend markets in Recoleta (Saturday and Sunday in Plaza Francia), Palermo Soho (Saturday and Sunday in Plaza Serrano) and San Telmo (Sundays only along Defensa street). Most of the leather stuff you’ll find there has been handmade by artisans. While bargaining isn’t so common in the markets in Argentina, you can sometimes negotiate a small discount, particularly if you’re buying more than one item.
Inspect for quality
Hecho a mano (handmade) doesn’t always signify well made in Buenos Aires so check the stitching and seams of bags, shoes and other leather items before you buy them. Avoid buying colored leather pieces that look like they’ve only been surface-dyed, as the color will fade quite quickly. Another telltale sign for poor quality leather is if it’s stiff and rough to the touch, which means it’s been coated to hide imperfections. Good quality leather should feel soft and smooth. And if you’re in doubt about whether it’s real or not, smell it. Real leather should smell like leather with no hint of chemicals.
Hit up the leather outlets
You’ll read in a lot of guidebooks that Florida and Murillo streets are the places to go for leather shopping in Buenos Aires. While it’s true that Murillo is lined with an array of stores selling all manner of leather jackets, bags and shoes, some of the designs lack style and workmanship so go prepared to sift through the bad before you find something good. Same goes for Florida street, which is a bit of a tourist trap with inflated prices. Instead, check out the Villa Crespo outlets for good leather finds at decent prices. Popular local leather brand Prune has an outlet store there.
Invest in the perfect leather jacket
If you’d like to treat yourself to something really special at the end of your time in Argentina, a custom-made leather jacket is a popular purchase in Buenos Aires. The city is home to some talented family-run leather tailors such as Bettina Rizzi who can tailor make a leather jacket in the style, color and specs of your choice. Take style inspiration from the sample models in her workshop or take along a photo of that Belstaff jacket you’ve been lusting after and the tailor will replicate it for a fraction of the price.
Secret shopping treasures
Some of Buenos Aires’ best restaurants and bars are hidden away behind closed doors and the same goes for the shopping scene. It’s become a trendy thing for emerging brands and designers to sell their collections out of private studio spaces or their apartments rather than shop spaces. And since these brands don’t have the same overheads, the prices are a bit cheaper, plus it’s a fun, more personal way to shop. Appointment-only B:Lit Bags located in an apartment building in the heart of Palermo Soho has a colorful collection of handbag styles in all shapes and sizes. New handbag brand on the scene Nimes also offers some stylish, buttery soft leather bags, available exclusively from their showroom and workshop in Palermo Soho. Pay them a visit and watch their small team of artisans in action cutting and sewing the leather.
Pay in cash where possible
Cash is king in Buenos Aires and most vendors will give you at least a 10% discount if you can pay in cash over credit card so be sure to ask before you pay. For payment on credit card, have a form of ID at hand.
Look for the Tax Free shopping sticker
If you’re shopping for leather in the boutiques and malls, look out for the Global Blue Tax Free sticker in the windows of shops as that means you can claim your 14% tax back on your leather goods purchases at the airport when you leave the country. Just ask the cashier for the forms. Whether or not you pay for the good in cash or credit card, you can choose to receive your refund in pesos cash or credit card.
Know your cueros
Photo credits: Eric Molina, Flickr
Calfskin is the most common and economical leather in Argentina and is used to make bags, shoes and jackets. Slightly softer and more lightweight is baby calf. Aside from cowhide, you’ll also find an abundance of lambskin leather (cuero de oveja), which is softer still and used to make leather jackets. The dearest of them all is goatskin leather (cuero de cabra), which is generally the thinnest and softest of the skins. You’ll also see a lot of carpincho leather in the markets and souvenirs shops of Buenos Aires, which is a more traditional, durable leather, used a lot in the gaucho world. It looks like brown speckled suede in appearance and, believe it or not, comes from the world’s largest rodent, the capybara, which resembles a giant rat and is native to parts of Argentina and Brazil.
Found any other leather shopping gems in Buenos Aires? Tell our readers about them in the comments below.