Leather is one of nature’s most luxurious yet practical materials. One of the first things people do after looking at a leather bag is touch it. The way leather feels to the touch is called the “hand-feel” or simply “the hand”. As a general rule, the softer the hand, the better the leather quality. There are many influencing factors that effect the quality of leather. Every hide has textural variations related to the animal’s genetic makeup, environment and food supply. The resulting markings and wrinkles on a given hide, should be considered part of the hides natural beauty and uniqueness.
There are numerous types of leathers and leather treatment processes for tanning and finishing leather. The leather used for making handbags, is a by-product of farming and food production. In the production of leather, each tannery has its own techniques and recipes for creating texture and color variations. After the hides are tanned, dyed and finished as desired, skilled craftsmen carefully select hides that match in color and texture. Each hide is cut by hand from patterns that represent various parts of the bag. These pieces are then sewn into a final product. Professional Leather cleaning is recommended when needed for leather bags. Never use traditional dry cleaning methods to clean leather products as cleaning leather differs from fabric cleaning in several ways. Unlike fabric, leather has natural oils that protect and preserve the appearance and life of a bag. Removing these oils reduces the hide’s suppleness. The chemicals used to clean leather frequently remove the natural oils as well as the undesired dirt. These oils must be restored by a professional leather cleaner.
The better the quality of a hide of skin, the less it has to be treated. In a premium quality hide or skin, the full natural grain is retained and exposed. One should see the “fat wrinkles,” the natural markings, and the feel or hand should be supple and natural to the touch. Transforming hides and skins into leather is done in three basic phases: pre-tanning, tanning, and finishing. Whatever is done to a piece of leather after it is tanned is part of the finishing process. This may include: dyeing, rolling, pressing, spraying, plasticizing, lacquering, antiquing, waxing, buffing, snuffing, embossing, glazing, waterproofing, stain-proofing, flame-proofing, or any other post-tanning treatment. Full-grain leathers are color-treated only by transparent aniline vegetable dyes, which shade or color the skins without concealing or obscuring natural markings or grain character. Some lower quality leathers, have been treated with a coating of pigmentation to help even out the color. Genuine, natural, un-pigmented and un-plasticized leather will breathe, thus maintaining their original structure. If the surface of the leather has been plasticized, as is the case for most lover quality leathers, the leather cannot breathe and may become stiff and woody. Following, is a short overview of the best kinds of leather.
Napa leather: Originally, only sheepskin was referred to as “napa.” However, in recent years, the word “napa” has become an adjective meaning “soft,” as in “napa cowhide;” this is really a misnomer. If it looks good and feels good, it is probably, but not always a better, more expensive grade of leather. A napa leather, or sheep/lambskin, is naturally one of the softest leathers and is closest in “hand” to a baby’s skin. The best leather is full grain leather. The reason it is best is because it is usually the strongest part of the leather. At the top of the skin, or epidermis level, fibers are tighter together and hence stronger. In order to be considered “full grain leather” the leather cannot have been buffed or sanded on the top. Therefore, at the surface the leather fibers are most closely inter linked, and hence strongest. When any of these fibers are buffed (sanded) in order to reduce the number of apparent blemishes, leather’s natural strength diminishes. Only the best (least damaged) skins can be used for making full grain leather. The more natural the dye and top coatings, the more transparent they are. These transparent dyes are usually aniline.
Only a small percentage of skins can be used to produce an aniline dyed full grain leather. Cowhide originating as a by-product from USA and Western European beef provides most of the top quality full grain cowhide. This is because cows in most other countries are not as protected by pesticides and enclosures. Brazil, for example, has large herds of cattle, but their hides are marked with thorns, horns, insects, etc. so that almost none of their hides are used to produce full grain leather. Top grain leather is full grain leather that has usually been buffed and has originated from the top of the skin. Both top grain and full grain leather are considered “top grain” because they originate from the top or outside layer of the skin.