We have been reorganizing the showroom today in NYC to make room for some great Italian-tanned sides of cow leather in a slightly heavier weight – great for upholstery to handbags. The colors are all over the board, mostly away from earth tones in vibrant shades of ‘fashion’ colors as I call them, to generalize. A lot of new items between now and the end of 2014.
Above, an almost ‘psychedelic’ pattern of ‘Camo.’ Like nature itself, there are really no rules.
When I was a boy, I thought I was G.I. JOE. I would put on a pair of camouflage green Velcro shoes and my worn out camouflage shirt and crawl in this tiny plot of bushes and dirt near our apartment .All of the ‘Camo’ I wore was standard Army camouflage, meaning it was green in color, a darker shade with hues of black and another shade of green to contrast a little. The idea behind camouflage, without being witty and looking it up, I would assume, is to blend in to your background and surrounding environment. Other camouflages have been around for a long time as well, such as ‘urban camo’ and ‘winter camo’ or even a blue “marine camo.’ To me, they all look cool and I know it is now a trend and I am surprised at how much I am seeing on the street, it will always invoke images of combat, but whether you agree with combat or not, there is something undeniably masculine that accompanies that image. I like to play with that idea and flip it, meaning take something masculine and make it ‘pretty.’ I will show ideas for camouflage below. What we are now working on for our ‘fashion camo’ as I guess I can call it here is…a lavender, red, orange, pink…a few others including a grey because I thought it looked really cool on a pic I saw of a Rapper’s jacket. The way that ‘Camo’ is blended can vary greatly. Some patterns are even patented, some are timeless classics. Below is a small pattern with a traditional shade of green. Below that is an orange pattern that has no place in a jungle but would look pretty cool on the sidewalk. Then, there is a desert type shade. This can vary greatly into and out of tans and taupes. For fashion, anything goes. I would assume, like the tan that is issued for our troops in the Middle East, they are trying to blend as well as possible to that particular sand but, sometimes, the goal is not to blend, but to stand out.
Above, a full lamb skin with a light blue mixed with metallic and earth tone.
Above, tan ‘Camo’ with other earth tones on hair-on calf hide.
Above, another shade of darker green ‘Camo.’
Above, a great pattern that we helped with for our US Troops. Legit.
Above, a marine ‘Camo’ shade.
Above, other shades of ‘Camo’ pattern against the contrast of metallic gold. No rules, remember.
Below, 3 shades of ‘traditional’ green patterns.
I am sorry for the delay in new posts. We have recently MOVED our showroom from 256 to 240 West 38th Street in Hell’s Kitchen and feel this location is more efficient and polished, making more sense for our style and what we are trying to ‘show.’ We hope you feel the same way and I will be more active here, as this positive distraction is now complete. I thank all of you for your continued support and please come join us when you are in NYC.
With regard to this post, I will contribute parts of ‘conversations’ from time to time. They are by definition, interviews, but I don’t like seeing it that way. It is more pleasant for me to see it as just a discussion. I happen to be answering questions and I guess, not asking them but, if I knew not the answers, I would be asking the questions…so here is a small but hopefully, informative portion. NOTE. There is no order to this information. I cut and pasted it from other locations with disregard to flow here. It is a long and winding read, but within it, I try to make certain points.
As far as quality – that is a tough conversation. The main thing is, yes, we are usually looking for skins with less marks and problems within the skin BUT sometimes imperfections can look cool, like on a worn-in looking bomber jacket. Yes, leather can be distressed to look that way, but mine is rough looking naturally – and there’s something cool and primal about that in the right context. Not all leather is supposed to feel ‘buttery.’ It’s great for a feminine female jacket but makes no sense for a motorcycle jacket that could potentially be called on to act as protection in the case of a fall. Again, the context is important. What is the USE of the leather? What is it going to be expected to do? If it is for an auto interior, it should have more finish and durability. If it is going to be for a hand bag, does it need to sag and collapse or hold its structure. Will it have help with interfacing and cardboard or other inserts? A bag can be exposed to a lot of abuse – so sometimes a grainy/pebble finish can hide more of the abuse that is taken in the course of its life.
White leather tends to be the most expensive…why? There is nowhere to hide. Every blemish, stretch mark, scrape, can potentially show, especially with less finished dyed-through leather. Even refinished white can have the potential for noticeable ‘imperfections.’ It is critical to have the best skins, the cleanest process, and storage. Black is where a lot of BAD leather hides…for the exact opposite reason. The darkness hides a lot of the imperfections – things that would have downgraded leather from a 1/A to a B/2 can be hidden here and passed off as ‘top grade’ leather… This is where people have to learn the differences.
I mentioned HAND…the expression came from actually taking the leather in the hand and moving it through the hand. The FEELING of both sides and their textures, by someone who knows the materials well, can tell a lot about the leather, even when things are attempted to be hidden. There is no better or worse sometimes though…maybe stiffer leather is needed for that end-use. Leather should always be approached AFTER someone has a clear idea of what THEY ARE DOING WITH IT. Understand what you are doing. Understand what you should now apply to that doing…that particular item and the expectations you have for It off the rack and 10 years from now –maybe.
Weight/Thickness – these 2 words are pretty much interchangeable. One should understand BOTH. It is not a perfect science but sort of is…meaning the variance can be .1 millimeter I think in reality. The difference in .1 is almost unnoticeable, but past that – yes, the average person who works with these material can feel the difference and they will behave different, so it matters. Generally – 1 square foot of leather (square footage is how we measure most leather except some exotics in centimeters (gators, stingrays for ex) – and yardage is used in linear cases, like trim and snakes. Back to basic hides…1 square foot 12 X 12 – is approx. ,4 millimeters and thus, 1 ounce. This is the actual thickness of the leather from 1 side to the other – then cross-referenced with the actual weight of that piece of leather, if it were cut separate – like cold cuts at the meat market. So – the math doubles? .8 millimeters = 2 ounces of leather, 1.2 = 3, 1.6 = 4, and so on. Most garment weight leather falls in this range. .4 mm would be thinner glove leather, some trim and delicate applications – .7 – .8 mm is more standard. Upholstery usually doubles from that, but these weights/thicknesses are all over the map and really have no rules – again – what is the USE of the leather. Some handbags have leather thicker than a sofa. Some gloves are much thicker…the more interesting items are often those pushing the boundaries of the leather thickness and what is the ‘expected’ use and ‘appropriate’ thickness. I have some pretty heavy jackets and belts – for example. I didn’t make them thinking, what’s the ‘appropriate’ weight? There are of course, times when it makes sense to go with the traditional too.
Note on Suede – goat suede can be thin while holding a strong feel with no stretch and a very nice flat and smooth finish with very little fibers showing – that ’fuzz’ look of suede. Lamb suede is very nice as well, lighter in movement, flows and drapes great but will give and stretch more – and be more delicate and prone to tear and misshaping then. Cow suede is OK but we prefer calf – so you have a softer hand while maintaining that strong and pretty clean, smooth looking suede it creates. Pig suede can be nice in terms of being able to be cut very thin while not stretching or breaking but you will deal with hair marks in almost any case – sometimes you see darker tones tanned well with pigs from colder climates (constricted skin like cold climate calf used for high-end shoes) have a non-porous appearance and cleaner surface look.
Everything matters…this phrase comes to mind often in my mind when I’m thinking of leather ‘in general.’ I don’t deal with anything outside of leather and suede. If it was not once living, I probably don’t sell or deal in it and I don’t try to act like I know. I wear other materials and am probably getting ripped off with cheap cotton like everyone else. Sometimes, when discussing these skins and hides (skins usually references a younger animal but I can sometimes use them in place of one another.When I say ‘hide’ I tend to think of a large piece of cow or a zebra. Whereas, when fur is mentioned and we deal with a little…have sold a lot in the past, my mind switches immediately to pelt)…we can sound like it’s a medical or science discussion – because in many ways it is.
Why one animal over another. Some is availability I would assume abroad…what they can get their hands on, what is allowed. Because of our contacts and numerous and various sources, this is really not an issue. So, I try to focus on the demand – what is being asked for and what makes sense to offer for that use. It begins with the animal’s very fibers, it’ tensile strength and response. For example, a lamb skin will stretch and give more than a cow or goat. They have a stiffer hand to begin with and will not flex and stretch – or drape naturally – as lamb will. All skins will harden or stiffen with age/time. Just as the meat of most everything becomes less tender with age, its largest organ, its exterior, does the same, becoming less tender and pliable. So, young lambs in the 4.5 to 7 square foot range will always feel softer than a 9 foot skin. Same holds true for cows. Calf suede and leather will give a softer hand from the start. Yes, they can be rolled in steel drums and other mechanics to try to break down and break in the fibers but overall, the above it true. In addition, a hide such as cow will usually break down slower. It is more durable. Yes, any leather again can be made more durable with heavier weight and added finishes, but naturally, that hide will give and tear less easily. When the hair is removed, it retains spots where in its absence. It also has a non-smooth natural surface. In addition, it has a stiff hand. If tanned correct, it can, make for descent suede, where you have the benefit of its strength, but lose the unpleasant surface, some of its stiffness and its spots are less noticeable, especially with dark colors and well done suede processing.
A large factor on which animal…PATTERN. How large is the area you need to have WITHOUT a break? This is why full cow hides tend to be favored with upholstery. When dealing with those larger patterns, whether wrapping sofa chairs or car seats, you have the ability to not have those stitch breaks. So, a half hide of cow many work for the back and sides, but they may need a full 45 to 55 plus square feet to cover that front long cushion without having to go to another piece. This is also an area where hides need to be lacking in holes so there is not obstruction there. Pattern makes will always be challenged by leather more than other materials. They need to alter their layout for tick marks, factory knife gouges, fence scrapes, bites, kicks, drags and brand marks. How many other materials is this true for? On a side note, this is where full aniline tanning can be an issue. These hides must be ‘cleaner’ and more perfect because you are counting on pleasing variations in tone and imperfections throughout since you are not hiding behind that coat that is placed overall in semi-aniline – that hides a lot of the issues. Are the imperfections ok, what is pleasing? Some of this is personal. I have heard people say ‘I like rough old looking leather.’ Not everyone does. Yes, there will be a darkening of the patina over time and wear with certain leathers, but not everyone has that great horse saddle with even wear. Some have that fancy car or sofa where one are is used more than another – then your wear is uneven and probably not as pleasing. Some things are more pleasing breaking in slightly with movement, shape and hand, but retaining that new look. More finish helps keep this appearance, as does all kinds of tricks, like buffing with glass and application of tone matching or clear top coats.
Q: Can anyone purchase materials from your company?
A: YES, we are a wholesale and retail operation. We accept all major credit cards, money orders and checks. In the event of payment by check, materials purchased must be held for several days in order to verify sufficient funds.
Q: What do you do, do you sell finished goods?
A: We are a privately-owned distributor of high-end leather, suede and related materials. We do not tan hides or sell items made from them. We do not represent one single tannery or supplier. Our strength comes from selling superior quality hides from various suppliers representing international tanneries and finishing factories. They are selected for particular items that we feel, they excel at producing and we showcase and sell those items, referred to as ‘articles.’
Q: Why do I need you, why can’t I just find suppliers and buy direct?
A: As I state elsewhere in this site and I will repeat, so long as I am selling these goods, finished hides are a craft to produce, with specific skills involved, resulting in a poor or superior finished product. To identify quality with regard to such materials is also a skill. There are many complex variables involved in knowing what the proper material for the destined use is. I would urge everyone using such materials, to consult and secure them through a company such as mine (we have been doing this for decades), to eliminate the risk and get what you truly want and need. What is the point of ‘getting it for less’ when you do not get what you want? There are many trying to unload poor goods that they have acquired in mass quantities. Please allow us to eliminate that possibility.
Q: Where is your price list?
A: There are several factors that contributed to working without one. The main ones are that purchases can be affected by quantity, in terms of discounts. We have always been flexible and willing to reward repeat shoppers and substantial purchases with savings. Also, we are of a strong belief that our materials are not finite goods and therefore should not be purchased by comparison shopping, with limited ability to truly compare such materials. Simply email or call us with regard to any item and we will provide a price when requested.
Q: Can I buy items without contacting anyone? Why are you not set up for ecommerce transactions?
A: It would be nice, but after much thought, we have decided for now, to continue taking orders by phone. The most obvious reason is better explained elsewhere in this site. Many leather items cannot be ordered ‘to the exact yard’ like fabrics. Also, it will greatly reduce incorrect material orders if customers at least have a brief consultation before actually purchasing these types of items. It is also a way to keep things personal. Again, we are a private business and highly regard our relationships with our customers. You can provide all order information except payment type. You can ask as many questions as need be, by email or phone. You can provide a contact number and we will call you. The phone conversation can be very brief so long as all other information is provided in advance. Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to hearing from you.
Q: Why are some items more than others, with regard to price, when they look similar?
A: As a general rule, the more processes done to a hide, the more it will cost. Each process involves more materials with regard to input and more actual work and time involved. Adversely, some hides are minimally finished, giving them a soft ‘naked’ ‘hand’ or feel. When this occurs, all imperfections of that hide are visible and therefore hides with very minimal damage must be presorted in the initial stages and designated for this tanning method and finish. This creates a higher price due to the process of hand-selecting these hides and to the fact that they are naturally ‘blemish free’. Please keep in mind that while the soft feel is nice, these hides are therefore more porous due to lack of finish and therefore, more susceptible to wear and other damage.
Q: How have you arrived at your prices for your particular goods carried?
A: All hides are NOT created equal. Again, the processes, from selection to finished goods, are truly a craft and as such, can be done in a poor or excellent manner. We turn down more suppliers than we work with and feel we only distribute top quality materials, that are priced accordingly. Although many of the goods are European and we are purchasing them with U.S. dollars, we are doing our best to offer fair pricing.
Q: Can I get a brochure or catalog of your goods?
A: Our inventory is extremely large. We are receiving new and exciting items on a weekly basis. Although, many materials are available at all times, some are changing with the times and trends. It is more accurate to request swatches, which we provide, for a small fee. (Use the terminology and online swatches provided, to create your request.)
Q: Is there a minimum to purchase your materials…can I buy just one hide?
A: YES, if the item is in our stock, in our New York City showroom, we will gladly sell you one hide or one yard, in the case of trim. That is our minimum. We cannot cut hides and sell portions thereof. Many other items can be purchased in small amounts even if they have to be obtained by us. If the item requested is not in stock, feel free to ask what the minimum quantity and time frame are.
Q: Are all of your items for sale, displayed on your web site?
A: NO. If we put all of the items that we sell on the site, it would do more harm than good. We made the decision to provide an accurate and positive introduction to our goods for sale that is clear and easy to navigate through, in an online store. We also create custom items. Not only can small amounts be ordered outside of our stock, many items can be referenced from our online swatches, and requested in alternate colors and finishes, being delivered in relatively short periods of time. Suede, hair hides, patents, perforations and other items can be done. If we don’t have it, we can most likely get it quickly. Please just ask for ANY type of hide. We have a tremendous network of suppliers and so long as it is legal to obtain, we will make every attempt to get it for you.
Q: Can I return an item?
A: Items can be returned for store credit, if we are contacted within 3 business days of receiving the item. In extreme circumstances of misunderstanding or damage, we can provide a refund once our goods are returned for inspection. Shipping will only be refunded if the item is damaged or faulty. Please take your time viewing our web site and ask as many questions as necessary, to minimize misunderstandings, resulting in incorrect purchases. If the item has been custom-made, you own it. Please consult and communicate with us as well as possible with regard to these items to avoid issues.
Q: Do you have an actual store I can visit?
A: YES, we have a 1,700 square foot showroom on the ground floor of 240 West 38th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue, in the Midtown South area of New York City. Please visit us Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 5 PM. If there is a question regarding holiday openings, please contact us beforehand for possible closures.
Q: Can I get answers to questions outside of the business hours?
A: YES, this is a private business and to the best of our ability, we rarely stop working. Although, we can only ship goods out of our location on the above business days, up until 3 PM eastern standard time. An order can be requested with an email during off-hours, so that it is attended to immediately, the morning of the next business day and therefore the process will likely move quicker. This also allows time for common back and forth communication, to come to the proper final purchase.
Q: How do I know what size everything is and how much I need for a particular job?
A: Hides are a natural product and as such, flexibility and approximations must be used to get the proper amount of material for any particular requirement. I would always suggest ‘rounding up’ a total square footage requirement. People often think we are trying to ‘over sell’ them. There will always be some waste with hides and the slightly larger size will ‘cover’ the job, whatever it may be. Know your pattern or dimensions by inches or feet and then leave the rest to us. We will suggest the proper hides and sizes with regard to those figures. Most hides are measured in square footage. As an example, The average full cow hide has an ‘overall’ dimension of a little more than 5 feet in width by 6 feet in length. The measurement on any other hide can be requested with an email.
I will probably add snake designs to this section many times. I used to own a ‘ball’ python and other snakes as pets. I like them personally. Here, we are discussing other leathers such as cow, lamb and pig, being tanned and finished in a manner to APPEAR as snakes. This allows for appearance consistency and a larger area without stitch breaks. As I stated before, there are several ‘classic’ snake patterns that are used more often most likely due to them being more universally recognized as ‘snake.’ What can vary within that pattern is the size (which, naturally, would be dictated by the type, size, age and section) of the snake they represent. The size and age progression can be shown, meaning large scales and pigment shapes are with older snakes, and all a tanner has to do is, use that larger pattern…smaller is called ‘baby’ in industry lingo. By section, I mean that there is a general ‘center point’ on a genuine snake. This point is where the animal would be naturally thickest (this will all make more sense once I introduce details on GENUINE snakes, which is coming SOON). From there, the animal begins to thin in radius gradually, to each end. For instance, a python can be HALF the radius at the ends as it was in the middle, so a 10 inch single side at the center point(1 half of the snake skin separated along the side from head to tail) would end at a radius of 5 or so inches at the neck and near the tail end, at least to where they are traditionally ‘ended,’ without the actual head and tail tip present.Snake patterns, with regard to prints and most embossing, will not show this change. They are constant. The changes usually occur, showing the alteration toward the sides of the animal, before the other skin area (back or belly) and totally different pattern begins. On to the photos.
I am tired on a different level tonight. We are in the process of moving our operation. After 15 years in the same building, we have to move a little bit of leather East, down the block in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. 240 will be the new door number on 38th Street in January and we are excited. After 30 years creeping around this hood, we are still here. I don’t care if some people think we still shouldn’t be. I don’t care if this hood has changed and ‘they’ tried to sweep up the sidewalks and say ‘the garment district is different now.’ I don’t care if other people out there think they do it better when I know they don’t. This is my families’ legacy. We will leave when we feel like it…and this is not our time. Maybe it’s a new beginning. All you good people out there, understand this…Kevin Hart just said it in Complex Magazine when asked ‘what is the key to a good stand-up outfit?’…’Leather.’
He could not be more correct. It was, is and always will be luxury.
I may repeat this, but when you are placing prints on a surface, the more porous ones have a better chance of holding that print. Generally speaking, we are applying a design we refer to as a ‘print’ upon the surface of the material. A print, to our company (don’t know or care what others mean by it – this is how I learned it a looong time ago so it’s good enough for me) means that the design is UPON the material, not pressed down into it. If it begins to create impressions, you are now stamping and thus, embossing the material. If it pressed and held with pressure and heat – and whatever else it takes, to stay put, laying on top of the flat surface, you now have a printed leather, suede or nubuck. What does that mean…well, the suede or nubuck have had their outermost surface removed in a manner that makes them porous, but all 3 can be used. How well will the print hold? I would assume better with the material having less finish. If a leather is covered in a finish that creates ‘water resistance’ it will be hard to now apply a print that will stick BUT if that print is applied and THEN finished with a clear-coat, you have a pretty locked in print design. We offer prints on all of the mentioned materials and all prints can be and are done on many other colors. The actual print pattern placed upon the material is what remains constant.
This post will obviously focus on SNAKE prints. Why, because other prints will be covered in other sections…there are almost countless prints out there in the world and we offer MANY, so this allows me to begin to talk about prints without having my head explode. There is not ONE snake print. A snake, roughly speaking is completely different on the underside (belly) as they are on the topside (back). Things are further complicated by the different scale patterns, colors, and sizes, based on the type of snake they are attempting to replicate. There are ‘classic’ snake patterns that are more recognizable, such as anaconda or python, with lesser known lizard-like karung snake…many patterns out there. For argument sake, if it appears ‘snake-like’ it probably is close enough to be called snake. Lizards will further complicate things with regard to pattern, so we won’t speak of that here at all, but it will come up in detail with future posts. I will revisit this with more comments and more snakes (we have a lot) so lets add some photos and end it here for now.
Perforated leather is exactly what the words imply – leather that has holes. I imagine one can create this manually if need be. Maybe create large rolling pins or plates like the ones used to flatten dough, place something sharp on the surface and roll is across the leather. If it pierces through and creates a hole, the leather is now perforated. The word, when defined, even mentions that the holes can be ‘in a row.’ This makes sense since most perforated leather has patterns with rows of holes. These patterns can be anything from very close together and all uniform in size and distance from each other, to a random pattern with regard to size and spacing. This is where design comes in. Certain looks are ‘classic’ and ‘timeless’ like small circles or squares. There are a number of rappers/musicians we supplied leather jersey-like material, utilizing this look. Who? Find a performer wearing a leather jersey. Does it look ‘off the rack’ to you? Chances are it isn’t. There are of course, lots of other uses from gloves to trim. Placing perforated leather over a contrasting color to ‘pop’ or the same, to create a semi-perforated look, can be used on anything from a handbag to a pillow.
Others, like diamonds, stars or acute ovals are less mainstream and then there are oversize holes and intricate patterns. It is kind of endless if one can afford their own custom cut. What dictates this effect in the modern tannery , would be large electrical, cylindrical heavy metal rolling pins and other types of machines, like large metal plates with sharp shapes on one side being pressed down on leather, creating a perforated leather…but essentially leather being pressed and flattened tightly, to control the consistency of the cutting placement, then sharp shapes coming down onto the surface and pressing all the way through, . Like a sharp ‘dye-cut’ for any set pattern, the repeat bladed shapes or sharp pointed shapes dictate the perforation. Think of a cookie cutter making multiple impressions on dough. If you press one down, yes, you can lift out the cookie, but if you leave it behind and lift the rest of the dough, you now have a pattern of perforation on that larger piece of dough. I like cookies so this analogy works for me. Speak soon.
I often think if my only brother were alive today, he would have a hard time with the world we now live in. Yes, it has always been cruel but the power of our reach has never been longer, to inflict damage in print. I rarely heard him or my father say a negative word about anyone else. He and I never wanted to be ‘known,’ but we always wanted to be great at what we did and acknowledged for it…maybe that’s a contradiction…what do I know, but it makes sense to me. In some circles, he was a big deal and I admired that confidence, talent and grand style. Can we be good at things and also remain unknown? I am the person behind the person maybe behind another person, and that’s ok with me. But, somewhere in that chain someone knows I take this real seriously and I gave them the best that I could, and hopefully someone respects me for it. I need that.
This ‘blog’ allows me to talk to you and hopefully help you without attacks and judgment. I don’t have to remember my lies because I don’t like to make them. I don’t have to care if you like my style because I do. I don’t look myself up online because I’m busy right here being real, trying to help people and maybe that’s all I need to know about myself. I encourage you all to feel the same about yourselves. I see you out there being effected by it…try your best maybe to disconnect from that part. The online world is a vicious place sometimes and that’s the part I want no part of.
I get messages all the time from ‘professionals’ saying they can help me with my ‘online reputation.’ If people only really knew, all the positive things people have said about my company and staff, that have been PULLED from sites. Competitors, rights groups, difficult people, keyboard cowards…? Who knows…I wish I didn’t care, but part of me has to because of the power that online presence now possesses.
On the flip-side, this blog feels right and allows me to speak to the good people out there. All of you who have style and talent, and want to learn about these materials so you can better your overall skill level. I know these goods feed my family and I am forever grateful to all of you, famous or anonymous, who support what we do. So, let’s talk about leather and suede and all good things related – and if you want to talk some shit, there are plenty of other useless, negative sites to do that on. You have my sympathy. Speak soon. D
Here are some images that accompany Part 1 and have additional commentary with each item,
so I can put some words to…leather.
Lamb leather, as a human tool, has been around for some time. One of my favorite things on Earth (wine) was once commonly carried, as was water and other liquids, in this dried skin. They may have used goats or other animals as well but it’s still a cool story, and true. No eco-friendly 30 dollar fancy metal containers then, sorry people. I will begin with saying that we will reference this animal as ‘lamb’ rather than ‘sheep,’ which essentially implies that it is a younger animal’s hide. The majority of the leather from this animal that we deal with and sell is from the younger specimens because of their ‘hand.’ This refers to it’s feel in the hand, an old trade technique that became an expression. As humans, we all want to reach out and touch things. Leather is no different. The hand of lamb, if tanned properly will be quite soft and supple. As with all animals, the skin fibers will toughen with time, so we use lambs (approximately in the 6 to 9 square foot range – with some slightly above and below that size, depending on type of lamb and use for the skin) for most garment and other uses where the softness of the skin is desired. Part of the tanning process, especially the initial steps right off the animal are what effectively ‘preserves’ the hide in a ‘frozen’ state at that age. Lamb, when cut to garment weight or thinner for uses such as trim or gloves, can feel almost weightless when holding a single skin. This leather tends to not hold out weather or retain heat as well as say, deer, but it’s much less costly and that hand is not comparable anyway. You can always add lining in limitless ways for warmth and style if need be.
If the skin is tanned correctly, it will retain a soft feel while not being easy to tear and be durable enough for multiple uses from skirts to handbags. It can be backed with different interfacing fabrics or boards to create stiffer feel, less stretch and retain shape. It can even be glued and bonded to thicker, stiffer cow leather for belt use. It is limited by itself but with some help,, very versatile. If they are tanned semi-aniline, with additional exterior protection, yes, they lose some of the hand and ‘natural look’ BUT if someone was spilling my wine on me while walking by, I would prefer that liquid resistance that ‘semi’ provides. Full aniline looks great in the showroom but can have a hard time holding up in the long run. Also, stretch marks and other blemishes will be more visible without the additional processes, even with some better skins, which can look cool, or not, depending on the use and look one is going for. All exterior conditions matter though. If someone does not spill wine on me and I minimize what touches the skin’s exterior (ex – oils and dirt in our skin absorb deep into the skin surface making the shade of color darker and darker with time and touch) that full-aniline lamb may look pretty for a long time and some would argue as they do with other leathers such as cow, that these oils and various outside elements add change, some calling it ‘character.’ That would be nice if we saw our own skin this way with time Not going to happen…
There are a number of factors that come to mind here. Yes, lamb has more ‘stretch’ BUT some of that stretch will not return, meaning unless the leather is blended with a spandex-like material, as with ‘stretch leather’ the lamb leather will stretch out and stay there with time. So, it’s the price we pay for leather that sits right up against the body. Those tight pants will start to have pockets at flex areas like the knees and rear. No, it can’t be tightened up. Yes, different conditioners off the shelf may help keep things more elastic and avoid this stretch out for a longer period of time with leather, but it will happen. Then, you can buy more leather from me and make another great pair of sexy tight pants maybe that’s the price of vanity…I can think of worse things to spend money on, just saying. We pay a high price for cool and sexy – and I vote that it’s ok. I’m going to stop here for now. There will be other parts but this is not a bad starting point as an introduction to lamb leather. I will add some lamb leather photos to PART 2 now, for reference on this post.
I appreciate the fact that all commentary actually pertaining to what is being discussed, was intelligent and positive. Thank you. I have disabled the comment section because I was swamped with irrelevant ‘spam’ as well. I am not super savvy with this stuff and can’t spend time filtering it manually. I wanted this to have a discussion format but for now it may remain more of a ‘free tutorial’ till I figure out how to combat this nonsense. No, I don’t need any shady medications and I don’t want to read about creepy subject matter completely off-topic….this is a weird world we live in my good people. Anyway, please just email subject requests and questions and I will do my best to answer them in a post asap. Stay tuned. I’m just getting warmed up. Demitri
So, what difference does it make? This post may be one of the most difficult to do. If I were to break down this topic from the start, I could write pages. At the very least, I hope people will look at the animal in front of them with more respect for how much work truly goes into that finished product we use. I will attempt to simplify several points here. The origin of the animal is where it begins. Everything matters and is governed by nature with some man-made influence in certain (but not all) cases. Like everything in real life, these animals are not all created equal or the same. If this were true for leather as well as the tanners, this post would not exist. For example, the leather that is harvested from colder temperatures will have smaller, constricted pores, giving a smoother appearance, as evidenced with calf from colder regions being used for high-end exterior shoe surfaces. Yes, this can be manipulated in a ‘re-tanning’ process, but only to an extent. Another example can be plump sheep and lamb from regions like the Netherlands, which have a smooth surface because of the soft wood fencing, but because of their weight, can carry a lot of stretch marks throughout. If cattle are free range and a bank or rancher insists on brands to keep track of the money, there will be brand marks. I can’t tell you how many people point to the rear of the animal and say, ‘oh, there’s a scratch…what’s that, where’s my discount?’ If an animal is branded overseas and leaves, it can sometimes be branded twice. This varies, like laws, from nation to nation. If an animal is fed and penned in, what type of fencing is being used? This can leave marks if an animal makes contact with metal and other sharp fence materials. What bugs exist in that region? This can result in holes made by grubs, ticks, lice and other pests.
I have lived a very ‘active’ life thus far and have 9 different locations on my body that were stitched or stapled, including 10 stitches and 8 staples in my skull, on separate occasions. All of those areas will bare a scar, as do all living things outside of a Hollywood movie. Zebras like to kick and bite each other. Alligators like to drag their belly over tough territory. We can go on, but they are rough on their bodies with total disregard for vanity, unlike us. This shows up on the hides. All animals have trauma and thus marks somewhere. Once a hide is removed, the process for doing this (fleshing, flaying) can cause ‘scores and gouges'; marks made by the machines used to separate the skin and the knives use to finish the job. If a hide is dropped on the floor, there can be a stain. If a hide is dragged, there can be scratches. This is why skins are graded and separated. Right off the animal, some appear better than others. How they are stored, preserved and transported after this point is also a complex process requiring skill, that will effect the outcome.
There are other factors but the point is made. Grading systems usually fall into grades A, B and C with traditional hides and skins and 1, 2 and 3 with exotics. Yes, if you afford it, you want grade A or 1, especially in the case of exotics. If you are doing a high-end clutch and the belly scales being showcased are full of scratches…um, your clutch sucks…but if you are making bag handles or watch straps…no, you probably don’t need top-grade skins that appear mostly blemish-free. On the flip-side, sometimes a little damage looks cool. ‘Distressed’ leather is a look all by itself, so the use and the perceived appearance is important here. To summarize the grading system technique, it can vary slightly from animal to animal, but is based on the size of the damaged or naturally defected area, for whatever reason, and the proportion it effects with relation to the overall useable area of that particular hide. What part of the hide is ‘perfect?’ I use that word with humor attached as nothing is perfect. The poorest graded hides can still find a place with industrial uses such as work gloves, straps, padding, and other places where leather’s toughness is still appreciated but it doesn’t have to be ‘pretty.’
If a hide is being tanned without being finished (See Glossary) the selection of grade 1 or better skins is more critical, since the natural characteristics of the leather will show, for better or worse. If the hide is being tanned with an additional finish, it is less critical. Sometimes lower grade hides are used here. They may still have a nice ‘hand’ and be fine, but some imperfections will not matter when under a coat of metallic or print. On a side-note, some leather can be a little rougher and this does not necessarily imply it is poor quality either. If I was falling off a motorcycle onto the pavement, I would prefer a tough cow hide to a buttery soft lamb leather, just saying. Again. what is the use? Not all leather is supposed to be ‘butter soft.’ It’s great a lot of the time, but may damage quick under certain circumstances and would benefit from extra surface coats and ‘tanning’ processes.
We have just selected the hides & skins. After all this, the hide must THEN be tanned. There are several more commonly used processes to tan leather and suede. Some are combined, like partial vegetable tanning with chrome tanning. Some are traditional and time-tested such as straight chrome tanning, which is the most durable and water resistant. Dyeing the skins will happen in a drum with color, the second drum the leather will be immersed in after the earlier ‘wet blue’ drum with chromium salts to ensure preservation and durability to moisture. Note; certain skins are probably separated for suede at this point if that tannery will offer suede. These will generally be skins with more surface damage but can still be made in to an impressive suede and will require more work than their leather counter parts to finish properly into a soft, clean suede. Yes, the term tanning really only means part of the process, but here we will say it starts in the drums with certain ingredients, washed, re-tanned possibly, which is a process to make the skins harder or softer by manipulating the fibers, and then sorted again at different points in the process. A tannery will then stretch, stake or roll-press the skins to flatten them, as they are not naturally flat…that would be a weird looking sheep.
I like to parallel tanning to good cigar making. This is because, yes technology has made it easier to make better leather, maybe with less or different skill, but in the end it is a craft. These same tanners are selecting certain hides and skins. That, as evidenced above, is a skill unto itself. Where a tanner truly shines is somewhere near the end where different texture glazing, prints, laser-cutting, embossing, perforation or partial perforation, foils, unique combinations of these with other new finishes and processes being invented, are taking place as we progress. I see things that make me understand that these are exciting times for leather and we still have so much we can create and do to improve on the existing product.
I will stop here before I add too many other details and processes involved, thus disregarding my effort to ‘simplify’ this post. Now, when someone asks ‘can you hurry it up’ they will have read that this is not a pizza. For example, skins are laid out to dry for an average 3 days after immersion in drum 1. We are far from done and there goes 3 days. I have been asked if I could make the skins within a week through my connections. Now you know, for that leather to be tanned properly, half of that business week was taken up with leather hanging and doing…nothing. When someone says ‘hey, can I get some black leather, it’s black…how much can it matter…which, who cares?’ One may reconsider. I have many ‘black leathers.’
People ask me everyday, ‘and what do you do for a living?’ Internally, I’m not sure what to say. I usually reply with ‘I’m just a salesman’ or ‘I’m a distributor.’ This may be true to an extent. I have been called an animal from a dying breed. One magazine called me a Ghost. I like that label a little. Yes, there are probably very few people who do what I do, especially in the US. It fits me well I suppose, as I was never one to follow the masses. In the end, I am locating, choosing, buying and distributing material and hoping someone purchases it. There are many variables which enter here. That is where experience comes in. I don’t just sell it. I use it. I appreciate and live it. If I can make it out of leather, I will. I believe in what I am selling and get excited talking about it and seeing others get excited. It’s personal.
I keep track of trends as much as I can. I believe the coolest looks are those that you truly believe are cool. If an old trend looks hot to you, then I think you should rock it. If you appreciate one of the new ones or are brave enough to try to create your own, I admire those who do it and spend their time focusing on making that statement and not worrying or attacking others for what they believe is cool. I would go mad in this world if we all looked alike and dressed alike. I have been attacked for my preferences. Most of us have. Like the analogy about getting back on the horse, keep rocking it. It is cool…at least you got my respect.
My family has been in this business since the early eighties. What we have seen, most of you would not believe. Those who we have sold and continue to sell leather to, you would not believe. I am not here to name-drop or wait for your respect. I am asking for you to tune in here and decide for yourself, if I know what I am doing. Will I be wrong? Yes, everyone is sometimes. I will try to correct myself. I got my ego in check. I am not quick to teach anyone anything I don’t know S$$$ about. I will try to provide insight and beneficial commentary on leather, suede and related materials as I work with them and thoughts cross my mind. Thank you. D
This post will encompass 2 different types of hides, so for purposes of staying simple, they will be referred above as ‘croc’ but I will attempt to break them down a little better here. Generally speaking, the Alligators are farmed and harvested in the US. The Caimans are South American in origin. These animals are in the same Order and Family scientifically, but go separate ways in the Subfamily category. The differences are evident in their appearance and will effect their tanned hides, so this our focus here. These are the two main hides we distribute and therefore will be discussed.
Alligators are offered by us in various sizes, colors and finishes. Like any other color with tanned leather, there are countless shades that can be done. It is based on traditional shades, which are those that remain constant in the world; black, white, dark brown in various shades, a ‘basic’ red…maybe other earth tones in brown, tan, dark green. Note: White hides tend to be done only in matte finish, so they truly appear white. This is due to the metallic chrome in the tanning process having a ‘gray blue’ effect in the tone of a glazed ‘wet look’ hide. Custom colors can be created when requesting multiple hides. The minimum for a production depends on the tanner. Alligators are desirable for their smooth scales with solid surface and ability to be quite flexible and soft when tanned correctly, even with larger hides. NOTE: If you are using a glazed hide, DO NOT bend the material back away from the natural flex and inward curl of the skin. You will most likely create creasing in the surface clear-coat that looks like broken glass. No, you cannot fix this. Matte hides without that finish can take more abuse but I highly recommend keeping that curl inward, towards the inside and you should be ok. In that position, most gator hides can be rolled like a tie without creasing and damage.
Caimans are being tanned better and better these days. This means that they are a more affordable (cost a fraction per centimeter as compared to alligators) option while keeping that genuine gator hide in a sense, and that natural unique look that comes with these animals. Buffing and smoothing can make the back less rough and allow for more uses. It also helps to make the small natural pores on the belly scales less noticeable, that are not present on alligators. To keep it general, the main difference is in body shape and ‘hand.’ In detail, the hides are shorter overall in relation to their width, so the same width alligator, would be longer. They have a similar pattern change in scales but there are minor differences throughout. They are after all a similar looking but different animal. The hides tend to be stiffer and thicker feeling. Again, this has improved with tanning techniques but as mentioned elsewhere, it’s in the nature of the skin fibers.
How many uses have I seen applying these hides? I can’t think of many. From chairs, watchstraps, jackets and shoes to car interiors, shaving tools, bike seats and stripper ‘outfits’…yes, you read right. The uses are endless and that’s exciting.
Smaller skins sometimes referred to as ‘baby’ are in the range between 20 and under 30 centimeters. They are not really babies, just younger. The measurement comes from the widest point in the middle of the animal, having nothing to do with its length. Larger skins can have second range in the 30 to 39 centimeter sizing. Yes, there are larger skins in the 40 centimeter range as well, usually on the market in limited colors. Alligators are a preferred hide in part because its soft, supple, nature, once tanned correctly. Like a lot of natural things (including us) the skin tends to get tougher and rougher as it ages. We can only tan and manipulate the skin so much before damaging it, to create a more supple feel. The rest is nature, meaning the actual fibers in the skin (which will be referenced with other leathers) because these were living things and there are certain characteristics that are what they are and we must be aware of them. Larger hides tend to be used for larger accessories or interior design work, where a certain dimension is needed, and more important than the ‘feel’ or ‘hand’, an expression that came from actually putting the leather in our hand, touching and moving it. These hides will generally have a tougher ‘hand.’
Scale size is important to everyone. There is no right or wrong. What look are you trying to achieve? How big is your clutch, boot, jacket panel, etc? If you look at the hides pictured, it’s clear you have certain parameters, IF you are using genuine gators. If this were embossed flat leather, things are less critical. The belly area scales will end at the legs of the underside where the skin literally changes direction and shape. They will end at the neck where scales are soft and completely different and the tail in the other direction where the scales get harder and change dramatically as well. Side scales become rounder before they meet the much rougher and raised back.
Some only want the belly scales for that small bag or garment panel. Others want the random and round scales from the neck and sides for watches, accessory handles or other small items. The back can come as-is or be buffed down for a lower, smoother look and feel. This side makes for some cool boots and bags, among other more dramatic uses, where a texture is preferred. More than almost any other hide, you need to know what look you are going for and how much material your pattern will require, exactly. What happens if you cut up a 26 centimeter hide and you needed another inch to fill that pattern with belly scales? You now need an entirely new larger hide. That is one expensive item and you now have a large amount of watch material sitting in front of you. Hopefully you have a lot of watches.
This is an additional note to the article on ‘tipping’ leather, which was discussed with regard to ‘croc’ scales. Not all leather is created equal, a line I will continue to use and repeat. That said, some leather is not tanned in a way that it has a clear finish coat of silicone or other substance that is traditionally applied for wear, tear and liquid resistance. This does not imply that this leather is inferior although it is true in many cases and that will be addressed in future posts. In this case, it is unequal in the sense, that it is unable to withstand the same use and abuse. When the leather is ‘less finished’ it can then appear to have a two-tone effect once pressure and heat are applied. If one thinks of a brand on an animal or the burn I got on my arm recently from an oven door…that area almost immediately got darker where the pressure and contact occurred. With a brand or burn, the area will rise in reaction to the trauma, but since pressure is placed and pushing down, the heated areas with be depressed and smooth in texture. The areas without that direct heat remain lighter, thus creating a two-tone effect that may not have the rough texture created with the suede-like tipping, but will make the other area ‘pop’ and be more animated.
Croc in this article, refers to a pattern embossed upon leather. It is often and can be confusing because it really applies to numerous patterns of different sizes and shapes, all which are attempting to resemble the scale patterns of a crocodile or alligator. There are very few differences between the two, the snout and jaw shape being the most obvious as well as a small difference in the size and brevity of the ‘transition pattern’ where the belly or underside of the animal meets the side, ‘with regard to scale appearance. It is mentioned here only to tell you there are ‘experts’ who cannot tell the difference between the two once they are made into patterns and then an item, so we will refer to all as ‘Croc’ and the rest is irrelevant here. So, which pattern to use? What size should the scales be? As the animal ages the scales get larger, so smaller scales don’t look ‘fake.’ They just appear to be from a smaller animal. This animal can give designers a challenge because there are so many variances throughout the skin. The top side of the animal looks nothing like the underside of the animal. The sides look nothing like the top or bottom…and then there is the odd shape to contend with.
So, why do we bother to use ‘genuine’ croc? Why is it so expensive? To begin with, it a fascinating animal. Scientists estimate that an animal related to (traced genus) lived over 70 million years ago. We are literally covering ourselves and our accessories in a modern day dinosaur. That sounds pretty exotic to me. There is a lot of waste involved to get that look one wants from a select area of the scale pattern, so your yield is low with regard to that skin. Also, there are only so many allowed to be ‘harvested’ for their hides with a worldwide increasing demand. One more factor is imperfections in the hide, especially the portion that drags along the ground much of the time and the portions that flex and are therefore odd in shape. The scale pattern is also unique in many ways, allowing for it to be recognizable all over the world and adds to the established luxury identity. The good news is the hides are tough by nature so that item may come with a large price tag, but it should last.
Although we do sell ‘genuine’ croc, the advancements with other embossed leathers allows for an affordable alternative with an impressive appearance. When cutting patterns, one must contend with the ever-changing pattern and applying it in ways that appear proportionate or at least intentional. With embossed croc patterns, one just decide which pattern to use and of course, all of the details of that pattern, mainly color, size, finish. The other factor is whether the scales are ‘tipped’ or not. This is an additional process to the embossing creases where the pressure and heat were placed to create the pattern, also have the additional effect of being ‘scraped’ or ‘sueded.’ This almost always results in a two-tone effect with the scraped areas appearing lighter in shade to the main color, so long as the skin was dyed through in one color and not finished on top with another. Then the skin would show through whatever the underlying base-skin color is. It is more work to create this effect and thus, usually more expensive to create, but ironically does not make the scales look any more realistic. Most genuine animals would come dyed in one single solid shade. It is simply a cool effect to make the scales ‘pop’ from the lighter border shade. Please see the photos here within. One shows a standard embossed lamb leather with belly croc patterns. The other shows croc embossed lamb leather with tipping.
My name is Demitri and thanks to my father and mentor, Francois George, I have been around good leather and NYC since I can remember. My city is mentioned because I travel a lot and I am influenced by all of my experiences but, definitely believe that this city’s strength lies in its diversity and its openness to different people, styles and original ideas. These elements in turn, inspire me to locate and distribute interesting leather and suede. One of my first personal items was a custom-made Michael Jackson Thriller red and black lamb leather jacket. I was young but pretty confident, so when I caught comments at school I took it as jealousy and no one could tell me otherwise. I looked cool and custom leather will always be in my opinion. I have created this ‘blog’ in order to share my thoughts and understanding of leather and suede materials. There is no ‘good book’ on this. You have to live it, wear it, work with it, be patient, listen and learn. I hope it helps all who understand genuine leather is not a trend, it’s timeless, luxury and the best choice. Thank you for appreciating and keeping it real.