The Language of Leather
How well do you know your leather? Can you tell your nappa from your nubuck, your saffiano from your suede?
Leather is a material that has been used for centuries and is appreciated for its practical, durable and aesthetic qualities. Leather goods are a perennial favourite, imparting a sense of luxury and style. But the current leather market is incredibly varied in price and finishes; as such, it can be difficult to ensure you are purchasing genuine leather from unscrupulous sellers.
Here at Porter Riley, we want to simplify the world of leather, making sure that our customers can make savvy and informed leather purchases and never be caught out. We have put together a comprehensive, streamlined guide on the features you should consider when investing in leather.
Types of Leather
The texture and thickness of the leather is dependent on which animal it originates from. It is important to bear this in mind because different hides are suitable for different purposes. There are three main animal groups which leather comes from: cow, sheep and pig. Of course, there are many other types of hides varying from emu, snake and crocodile but, for the purposes of this article, we are focusing on the most commercially used and readily available.
Cowhide is considered the toughest hide due to its thickness and stiffer texture. These qualities mean that cowhide is used to create durable products that wear well, such as shoes and leather furniture. The stiffness will eventually relax with continued use, but it is more inclined to hold its shape for longer.
Cowhide is not to be mistaken with calfskin. As the name suggests, calfskin comes from a calf. The younger hide means that calfskin is incredibly soft, has a finer grain, but is also durable. This means that calfskin is highly coveted and valuable. Watch out for retailers trying to sell this at a low price; chances are it is not genuine calfskin!
Sheep and Lamb
Normally, the larger the animal the thicker the leather. As sheep are fairly small, their leather tends to be more of a fine grain – soft and supple. The surface of sheep and lamb leather is usually incredibly smooth. Often the word ‘buttery’ is used to describe the texture of lambskin. Sheep and lambskin is frequently used for fashion jackets due to the way it falls flatteringly on the body.
Avoid at all costs. Leather from pig skin is thin, shiny and does not offer longevity. Pig skin is sometimes used as a “filler” leather to keep costs down. Be wary about low price leather products claiming to be “genuine leather”; chances are it’s pig skin, which means that your purchase won’t last for long!
Leather comes with a lot of technical jargon. We’ve compiled a shortlist of what you’re most likely to hear so that you can shop with confidence.
There are four types of grain, and this is how leather is usually sold to manufacturers.
Full-grain: These are the hides that have not yet been treated (i.e not sanded, buffed, or had imperfections removed). This is a pure form of hide. It is strong and durable. Leather furniture and footwear are usually made using full-grain leather.
Top-grain: This is the most common leather on the luxury market. It has been separated from a “split layer” which means that the leather is thinner and more pliable. The surface is sanded and a finishing coat is added. This changes the texture of the leather so it becomes less breathable. The top coat means that the leather does not develop a natural patin and is more resistant to staining.
Corrected-grain: This is leather which has had an artificial grain placed over the surface. Any imperfections in the leather are removed, with the artificial grain embossed on the surface and usually dyed.
Split: Split leather is created from the hide left once the top-grain has been removed. When a leather is split, top-grain and drop split are separated. An artificial layer is placed onto split leather and embossed with a grain to smarten it up. Alternatively, the split is used to create suede.
Leather comes in all shapes and sizes, with an incredible variety of finishes. Porter Riley has deciphered some of these for you.
Patina: This is often used to describe the colours and textures which develop during the aging process of leather. The patina will be unique to the type of leather and how much it has been used. Changes to the surface and colour of the leather is naturally occurring.
Nappa: This leather is soft to touch, smooth, and doesn’t have any imperfections. It is usually quite pricey due to only the most immaculate hides being chosen. Pigment is sometimes applied to the leather.
Nubuck: This is made from top-grain cowhide which has been sanded or buffed to give a nap which creates a velvety surface. Nubuck shares similarities to suede but, because it is created using the outer side of the hide, it is more durable and resistant to wear and tear.
Patent: Patent leather is eye-catching and certainly unique. The characteristic shine and glossy finish is due to a lacquering process. The original creater of patent, Seth Boyden, used a linseed oil-based lacquer coating. Contemporary patent now uses a plastic coating.
Suede: This leather is made from the underside of the hide which is softer. Suede has a napped finish which makes for that wonderful smooth and velvet texture. However, coming from the underside of the hide means that is more susceptible to wear and can become dirty very quickly – so don’t risk having liquids anywhere near it!
Saffiano: This is a highly coveted leather finish and employed by luxury brands. Saffiano leather has been treated with a texture pressed into it on a machine. Saffiano has a characteristic cross-hatch design. This design means that not only does the leather look smart, but also it’s scratch resistant, durable and easy to maintain.
Know Your Faux
With so much variety on the market, some leather imposters have managed to sneak in. The most common leather substitute is PU leather. PU leather is made from polyurethane and leather, which is essentially a plastic sheeting which can be stamped to mimic the grain of genuine leather. Although PU leather is fairly durable and resistant to damage, it is not the real stuff. You can usually tell when something is made from PU leather because it has an incredibly smooth finish with no pores – and a too-good-to-be-true price.
Another tell-tail sign of genuine leather is the smell. The smell of leather is distinctive, musky, and warm – so much so that it has often been used as an ingredient in perfumes. If you’re a bit suspicious as to whether you’ve bought genuine leather, try giving it a sniff!
So, where does that leave us?
Porter Riley believes that having quality leather goods adds a little luxury to the everyday, and that’s why we truly invest in the best materials and finishes for our phone cases. Given the variety on offer in the leather world, our ethos is to make stylish, practical, high-quality and long-lasting products, regardless of production and design costs. All our cases are therefore crafted from genuine cowhide leather, sourced from Italy. We offer a variety of colours so that you can tailor the phone case to your personality, and our stylish wallet-style cases – which have slots for your cards and cash – are also stamped with our club seal: a mark of our commitment to quality.
Words and photos by Serena Banfield