All Things Leather
January 11 2023 – Brynn Capella
As we all know, leather is a beautiful natural material, so it's surface structure inherently will not be completely uniform and will include blemishes and imperfections. Animals live outside, roll around on the ground, rub up against fences, get bitten by insects, well you get the picture. When the hair is removed and the hide is processed, all evidence of an easy or rough life shows up as scars, scrapes and imperfections.
The question is how does that become the beautiful items we use and how is the quality ultimately determined. Because although all leather starts from there, it is not all created equal. How is that you ask?
Well there are two main things to take into consideration; the grade and the finishing process. Both of these will affect how durable it is, how the leather feels, wears over time and the best way to care for it. I will breakdown all the different leather we use, what we call it and how to care for it below. But first you have to understand what determines a quality hide (Hint: imperfections are actually a good sign in leather).
Although there are several different grades of leather, I will only talk about the top two: full grain and top grain.
This determines the strength of the leather. You have probably heard me use this term full-grain, time and time again. But what does that really mean?
This simply means that the leather has not been "corrected" to remove any marks, which may sound odd but there’s a reason for this. Since the entire thickness of the skin is used and because all of the oil-absorbing properties and original characteristics remain intact, this leather is stronger and more durable than the others. If the hide is mostly blemish-free, the very best way to use it, is full grain.
You may pay a little higher price for products made with full-grain leather, but the item will survive the rigors of age and travel much better than other grades. We proudly only use full grain leather.
Which brings me to the next grade level, which is top-grain. Of course, that’s typically where the confusion starts, because top grain sounds like it should be the best, and you might be wondering why I am even mentioning it. Well, because it’s probably the most used leather in handbags, where a pristine department store look is desired. But it is the second-highest-quality leather because that top layer is removed to eliminate surface imperfections and start with a fresh top surface for a variety of finishes to be applied. So the result, at the end of the day, can be a cleaner looking leather ... yet it is much weaker and less natural.
Besides full grain, the only other leathers we use are suede, which is just the underneath layer of the hide when it is split and of course, we have a true cowhide which the hair has simply not been removed.
Now to the good stuff…during this process, resins, waxes, pigments and dyes are applied to the grain of the leather in order to impart the desired color, give brilliance, texture and other physical characteristics.
We separated our leathers into three groups based on a few different factors: Honest Hides (Aniline leather), Finished Leather (Semi-Aniline) and Vintage Leather. Below you will find our leather color names so it’ll be easy for you to connect the dots.
You can also click here to download our Leather Guide. You can also click the links to see all bags available in that particular leather group.
OUR HONEST HIDES INCLUDE:
True Aniline: Merlot
Sanded Aniline: Bluebell, Wicked and Woodstock
Pull Up: Black Sand and Whiskey
All of these leathers are aniline dyed in the drum to create deep, vibrant colors. After that the three types have slightly different processes.
Aniline leather: This is considered the highest quality, most natural, soft and gracefully supple of all leather types BUT offers minimum resistance to tarnishing. Marks, scratches, and signs of wear will show and it develops a rich patina with age and requires fairly regular maintenance. But because there is no pigmentation added, only the best hides are used, making it one of the most expensive leathers in the world. Perfect for the leather enthusiast.
Sanded Aniline: This is lightly hand sanded so every hide will have a personality of its own and a light two-toned affect. A final touch of silicon is applied creating an irresistibly soft touch and uniquely rustic look. This leather could also be classified under distressed because of its unique characteristics.
Pull-up: This leather is sealed using a combination of transparent waxes and oils, instead of paints, pigments or top coats, which gives it a very soft hand. But again, it has little to no protection, requiring basic maintenance. When stretching this leather, the color distributes and becomes lighter in the pulled area and that is how it gets its name, “pull-up”.
The leather care we recommend for all these leathers are: Waterproof Spray and Leather Dressing
OUR FINISHED LEATHER (aka semi-aniline) INCLUDES:
Seabreeze, Mai Tai, Rosarito Beach, Free Love, Cobblestone, Noche, Rosewood, Stone Temple, Blue Bayou, Ivy League
Past colors include: Sandstone, Sahara, Toucan, Sand Dunes, Oyster Shell and more
These will have a more uniform coloring than full aniline leather. Because this dye contains just a small amount of pigment. So the easiest way to tell if a leather is semi-aniline is if the leather feels coated in some way.
Semi aniline: It is still undeniably soft yet boasts the strength and resilience to stand the test of time and is perfect for those hard on their bags. With a built-in layer of protection, it’s scratch resistant for the most part, easier to clean and condition than aniline leather. It will not patina, is less subject to color fading and is also naturally waterproofed!
We call it finished because it just feels easier to understand and relate to.
OUR VINTAGE LEATHER INCLUDES:
Distressed: Happy Trails, Cape Cod, River Rock, Darkhorse
Aged: Aquarius, Olive Branch, French Vanilla, Wooden Tiki
Last but not least is our Vintage leather, which is a combination of our distressed leather and aged leather. I put them together only in relation to the overall look of the leather.
Distressed leather: This is an old-world aged leather with a buttery hand that is aniline dyed for color and receives an oil and wax treatment to create the dramatic crackle effect. This leather will only improve with age and provide a rich distressed look for years to come. However, we recommend fairly regular leather cream applications to waterproof the leather as well as restore moisture, and protect against sun damage.
Aged leather: This is semi-aniline dyed so it includes a layer of protection against fading, scratching and sun damage. But this specialized leather also boasts a wax crackle effect accompanied by a subtle sheen for an aged leather look. So if you like a vintage look, but desire less maintenance, this is your leather.
Listen, at the end of the day, if the leather feels very natural and soft, a waterproof spray and leather dressing are your best friends. If the leather is soft yet feels coated in some way, it won’t need much care, maybe a little leather cream down the line with daily use. If the coating feels very thin (mainly our distressed leather) the leather cream acts as a waterproof, restore and protecting agent.
I hope this helps clarify between look, feel and wear of all the different types of leather we use.
But as always, I am here to help guide you in the right direction!