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.