Leather is a beautiful, natural and versatile material. Fine quality leather feels and looks good to wear – its scent, appearance and texture all make it a unique material with an aura of luxury and prestige. Leather is the oldest material known to man and can be traced right back to primitive man who used the raw skins and hides from animals hunted for food to provide shelter and clothing. Through the ages, methods to preserve the skins were discovered and further refined, through a process known as ‘tanning’, to transform these skins into leather.
Why Leather? The Properties and Benefits of Leather
Leather has properties that make is superior to other materials.
Leather is a material that has an exceptionally long useful life, lasting much longer than fabric and ‘faux’ leather. It ages well and will retain and even improve its good looks for many years to come so it is not a ‘throw-away’ item. The natural blemishes in each skin give each piece of leather its own individual character, resulting in natural variations that are inherent in genuine leather garments. With regular wear and with your body heat, a leather garment will mould and adjust to your body’s contours and will stretch just enough at any snug contact points to fit you more comfortably. Leather is also comfortable to wear as it is breathable, thus allowing ventilation and evaporation to take place, it feels warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and is naturally windproof. Leather has a high resistance to tear and puncture, which is why Bikers wear it for protection and is also resistant to flame and heat.
Leather is a by-product and is a renewable natural resource.
Leather can be made from any animal skin and, with a few notable exceptions such as snakeskin, the leather industry makes use of the hides and skins from animals, principally cattle, sheep and pigs, reared specifically for meat, wool and dairy products. Therefore leather production prevents what would otherwise be an enormous waste disposal problem with potential health hazards. If leather was not produced, it would also have to be replaced, predominantly by synthetic materials from non-renewable resources.
Does leather have any drawbacks?
Well, there are one or two things to be aware of so that you can take good care of your precious leather garments. For instance, leather is a natural and inherently porous material and so is not waterproof or stain proof. In addition, the colours can begin to fade if the leather is exposed to strong direct sunlight for extended periods of time. (Read more about looking after your leather in our post on Caring for Your Leather.)
Our leather clothing
Apart from one or two products that we offer in high quality cowhide, our leather clothing is made from lambskin nappa. Lambskin is a soft leather that is fine grained, supple and lightweight, yet still tough and durable. For any particular type of leather, however, there will be differences in quality and characteristics, depending on several factors, including the quality of the original skin chosen, the type of tanning processes used and the finish applied. Final colour shade and tone variation can also vary batch by batch. This is because of the very nature of leather since it is not a synthetically produced material.
We have taken great care in choosing high quality, high-grade lambskin, selected specially for its luxurious softness and durability. You can fully appreciate how smooth and soft the leather is when you touch it; it will also continue to look good over time. Some of our garments are made exclusively from British hides. (The old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is never more true than for leather, so be wary of any claims made for leather products which you may see at ‘bargain prices’. For instance, the top layer of the original skin may be sliced into thinner layers to produce clothing in an inferior material that can be sold at lower prices.)
Terms used to describe our leather clothing
You will see in our product pages that we use a number of different terms to describe the leather used for our clothing and we will explain a little more about them below.
Nappa (or Napa) Leather
Our lambskin leather is classed as nappa leather. (As you will realise below, the correct spelling is ‘napa’ but both spellings are in common use.)
So what is nappa leather? Nappa leather is a full grain leather that comes from the skin of lambs or kids. It is one of the most expensive kinds of leather because the way it is treated and dyed has to be done with the utmost care. The term ‘napa’ refers to the particular tanning process involved – napa tannage – so called because this process was first invented by a man called Emanuel Manasse who worked for a tannery in Napa, California in 1875. The leather produced is of the highest quality – it is very supple, beautifully lightweight and wears well compared to other leathers. It is may be described as having a ‘butter soft’ feel. It often develops a patina, a soft sheen that gives each garment its unique character or ‘personality’.
One word of caution – in more recent years, ‘nappa’ has become more commonly used (or misused!) to mean that the leather is soft, but this may have been made from a less expensive leather such as cowhide, as in ‘nappa cowhide’. True nappa, however, is lamb/sheepskin and is therefore a higher quality and more expensive grade of leather.
‘Aniline’ refers to the type of finish used on the leather after the tanning process. Types of finish used on leather include aniline (full aniline and semi-aniline) and pigmented. Nappa leather can have any of these finishes. Aniline leather is the most natural-looking leather since it is less treated than other leathers. Aniline leather is coloured only with dye (originally an ‘aniline’ dye) and has not received a surface coating of polymer and pigment – a bit like staining wood instead of painting it. It also has a softer sheen which is less shiny than leathers with a classic finish. The unique surface characteristics and natural beauty of the original skin are thus more visible. Because of this, the skins used must be of the highest quality – only a small percentage of skins are good enough for this type of finish and so aniline leather is more expensive. It is, however, less resistant to soiling.
The superior leathers used in our finest quality clothing are classed as semi-aniline leather. This is aniline leather that has also been given a light surface coating containing a small amount of pigment. This ensures consistent colour and gives some stain resistance. It is thus more durable than full aniline leather, has a slightly higher sheen and yet while retains its natural appearance.
Products made from finest quality semi-aniline leather include some of our women’s pencil skirts and black leather trousers, as shown in the examples below:
Pigmented leather has not been dyed but has been received only a polymer surface coating containing pigments. This gives a more even appearance to the leather and is more durable but less natural-looking than aniline leathers, so that the natural markings from the skins will be less evident. Pigmented leathers can be used for various products including clothing, handbags, upholstery and furniture. The quality of pigmented leathers will vary, depending on the skins used and the amount of pigment used etc, so it is vital that these are selected with care for fine quality clothing.
A fine layer of wax has been applied by hand to the aniline nappa leather. This gives the leather a subtle layering of shading and tone. Examples of our clothing that have this finish are some our men’s and women’s leather waistcoats.
This is one of the oldest finishing methods which polishes the leather under heavy pressure after applying a layer of protein additive such as albumen (from egg white). This enhances the colour tones and gives a shine to the surface. The friction from rubbing creates heat which darkens the colour tones and raises some of the oils to the surface, thus producing a natural depth and beauty. The heat also hardens the finish and so it slightly stiffens the leather. Some of our women’s trousers and skirts have a glazed finish, for example:
Whereas the typical finish for soft leather gives a subtle natural sheen, buffed leather has been brushed or lightly buffed so that it has a matt finish with no sheen. Our men’s and women’s leather gilets have this matt finish.
Suede is leather from the underside of the skin or hide, usually lamb, although goat, pig and calf are commonly used. This is more fibrous with a matt, napped finish and is soft and pliable. However, because it does not include the tough exterior layer of the skin, it is less durable than standard ‘full grain’ leather.
Only the finest skins are selected for the suede used in our suede skirts and this is therefore of the highest quality, soft and smooth.
Patent leather is leather that has been given a high gloss, shiny finish. The original process was developed by Seth Boyden in 1818 in New Jersey and was so-called because this process was patented. Back then, a linseed coating was bonded to the leather but nowadays it is usually a petroleum product bonded to the leather. (The term patent leather has also been inaccurately used what is ‘poromeric’ imitation leather. This is a petroleum or vinyl product that is not real leather.)
Our very limited range made from fine quality cowhide includes our men’s leather shirt and our women’s leather mini kilt:
We hope this gives you some useful insight into the types of fine quality leather we select for our clothing. Coupled with exquisite tailoring, we aim to bring you garments that you will look good in and enjoy wearing for years to come.
Alteration and Bespoke Tailoring Service
And just to remind you that we also offer an alteration and bespoke (‘made to measure’) service provided by our expert and experienced tailors.