The world’s best leather debate no doubt echoes around leather tanneries across the globe. It’s even disputed here at our headquarters in Northamptonshire, never mind the Italian tanneries that are considered some of the finest in Europe.
However, casting our eyes further afield to Chicago, we may well have put an end to this debate. We’re taking a closer look at one of our leather suppliers, (probably one of the most famous leather tanneries in America), to better appreciate and understand this prestigious tannery, its processes and products.
Since 1905, the Horween Leather Co. has refused to falter from its ambition of producing the world’s best leather. Instilled into each generation are the traditions and techniques that haven’t wavered for over 100 years (yes, their leathers are still made by hand)!
As a result, Horween leather boasts an unparalleled quality. Derived from not cutting corners and choosing components strictly for their calibre, Horween leather is world renowned.
Whilst worldwide acclaim often arrives due to associations with popular American sports and the production of baseball glove, football, and basketball leathers, another of its hallmarks is Shell Cordovan leather.
What is Shell Cordovan Leather?
The origins of Cordovan leather stem from seventh century Spain. It’s a very specific leather with an even more specific tanning process.
Affiliations usually come from its deep rich colour but leather enthusiasts will inform you there’s a lot more to be acknowledged throughout its six to eight month production process than colour alone.
The leather, taken from a particular part of a horsehide, is an irregular oval shape that is typically tanned, stuffed, shaved and polished. A process which gives Shell Cordovan leather its famous appeal.
Such a labour-intensive tanning process defers most tanneries from even considering it. Horween are one of such a small cohort that do, making it even more special.
Shell Cordovan Leather Quality
Unique to the touch, Shell Cordovan leather has a distinctively smooth feel. This can be somewhat surprising considering its durability but, thanks to its breathability and character, it can be utilised for all manner of leather goods.
It’s safe to say Shell Cordovan leather has found a home within the fashion industry. You’ll see it displayed from head to toe. From Shell Cordovan shoes, boots and belts to wallets and watch straps, the equine leather is versatile. Famed further for its resistance to water, stretching and creasing, it’s ideal for these types of leather goods.
It’s clear to see the overall appeal of Shell Cordovan leather, but who does it best?
Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan Leather
Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan® is a consequence of the art of leather tanning, arguably at its finest. Observing the methodology behind it unfold is mesmerising, to say the least.
Each hindquarter shell is seductively steeped in the gentlest vegetable liquors, genuine hot stuffed and then slicked onto glass frames to start the drying process.
It’s impressive to see how each shell is hand curried and shaved by highly skilled artisans in order to expose the shell. Fortunately, this skill-set still exists and credit to Horween for continuing to train and educate in traditional techniques.
Next, dyes are hand rubbed on for a deep aniline finish. Finally, the shells are hand glazed to achieve the rich, glossy look and feel. The end product is prized by the finest leather craftsmen. But what else is it that establishes Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan leather as the best in the business?
Shell Cordovan Leather in Colour
As previously mentioned, Shell Cordovan leather provokes imagery of a rich, dark burgundy coloured leather. You’d be right to associate it to darker coloured leathers. What you may not expect is the diversity of colours Shell Cordovan conjures up.
Although it doesn’t accept leather dye as well as some leathers, Shell Cordovan will accommodate certain tones and shades which only enhance its luxurious appeal even further.
The Horween Shell Cordovan colour spectrum stretches from amaretto through to violet and includes intriguing hues of blues and greens too. To see them as a collection is truly stunning. Although, it’s worth bearing in mind that the colour at inception will alter as the leather ages. There are also colour variations from shell to shell.
Shell Cordovan Patina
Natural Shell Cordovan which skips the glazing step in production, leaves it with a matt texture that divulges more of the leather’s natural character. This gives it the most potential when it comes to patina. Because it’s undyed, the leather will age and darken itself.
High-quality leathers like Shell Cordovan do show more visible signs of patina through continued use and exposure.
For us, the changing colours tell a story. They add to the character of the leather. This is an attractive attribute, making it even more desirable to the masses.
Taking Care of Shell Cordovan Leather
Even though Shell Cordovan leather is exceptionally durable, it’s still important to show it care. However, when it comes to applying creams, waxes and polishes apply the ‘less is more’ mantra.
To help maintain the look of Shell Cordovan leather, as well as protect and restore it, Horween has handpicked select creams, polishes and renovators that will not damage the integrity of the leather over time. Follow the care instructions provided and you can help to prolong the longevity of your Shell Cordovan leather. Available to purchase here.
High Expectations but Expect Imperfections
Despite the expertise and attention to detail throughout the Shell Cordovan leather production process - it isn’t perfect.
By this, we mean that the leather itself may display blemishes or defects. Marks, holes and white dots are all part of Shell Corodvan’s character. Whilst strategic cutting can work around such imperfections, we see their inclusion as individualistic.
Is Shell Cordovan Worth it?
It's understandable, in this day and age, how such a rigorous production process can be off-putting for many tanneries. Plus, some businesses may want a quicker turnaround than six plus months for their product.
Yet, it’s precisely the product which is the differentiator. It may require more patience and expertise to produce, but the end result is like no other. Horween Genuine Shell Cordovan leather stands alone in a category manufactured by itself. There isn’t much in terms of competition, as far as we can see.
Owning a piece of Horween leather, to some, is liking owning a piece of art or a slice of history. It’s definitely collectible and one of the many reasons why we stock and supply it worldwide.
You can view our full range of Genuine Shell Cordovan Leather here.