Berenise Ahumada opened her flagship Eleganza Leather store in Tampa in 1997. In 2013, she brought her tightly edited selection of leather jackets, handbags, shoes, wallets, travel bags and more to Sarasota’s Main Street.
Ahumada’s passion for leather comes from time spent in Tuscany with her family, where she worked in a leather store and fell in love with Italian leather makers’ attention to detail and passion for their craft. “In Italy, everyone wears leather,” she says. “Generations of Italian families [make leather goods] because they love it. That comes through in the pieces; even the mistakes are beautiful.”
Ahumada has cultivated personal relationships with her vendors, who painstakingly handcraft brands like Merino, Francesco, Giancarlo and Tuscana. She and her husband, Lucca, travel to Italy three to four times a year to purchase the one-of-a-kind items they sell at their stores, which will soon include a location in St. Petersburg.
Despite our warm climate, she says, Sarasotans have embraced leather year-round. And while “in Tampa, people go for brown or black or burgundy,” she says, “Sarasota loves color.”
Downtown energy “I love the atmosphere downtown. You can feel the culture, and it’s not rushed; people are polite and educated and have manners. And I have nice neighbors—we support each other.”
Why Italian leather? “Quality control. Just a small piece of leather takes a month to process—it’s hand-tinted with vegetable dye extracts, washed, then brushed. Some finishes take even longer. Even the kind of thread is important. And it ages beautifully.”
Buying your first leather jacket? “I suggest something soft and light, so it can be used for any season. Ninety percent of our jackets are lambskin, and even our calf leather jackets are light. If you’re going to spend the money, you want to be able to wear it.”