Thursday 2 May 2013

Cordovan leather: an in depth look

Shell cordovan is a type of leather often used in shoemaking, but also found in wallets, belts, card holders and other small garments. Is an equine leather made from the flat shell just below the hide on the butt of the horse.

It was originally prepared by the Moors in the city of Cordoba, Spain, from where it takes its name. At first  was used to manufacture goods as trunks, soldiers shields and armor. Some of the characteristics of this particular leather is excellent gloss, soft texture, durability and in some degree a self-healing property.

The famous Horween Leather Company is known for its production of high-quality shell cordovan and also as the only producer in North America. They were called it once the "Cordovan capital of the world".

Japanese cordovan
Japan is also well know as a reputed producer of the high quality leather. The best horse hides from Europe, specially from France, are imported to  just a few of the finest tanneries in Japan, Shinki-Hikaku Co. is one of them. They are based at the south of the country, in the city of Himeji. They select carefully every horse in Europe using high standards and strict regulations.

Cordovan, Shinki-Hikaku on top of Horween

Process of producing cordovan
The process to make cordovan begins using a cool dented bench to cut and separate the oval shaped butt from the front of the hide. The butt due its properties are more suitable for the fabrication of shoes while the fronts is better for  garments. Then the hides are washed and  pass through a cleaning process to remove fat and hair, after this the hides are submerged in a bath for several months with agitators. After this stage, the hides are selected, dried and set aside for months allowing them to shrink and cure. That shrinkage it takes off  30% of the hide, this and the production time involved gives to this product an expensive status.

The final steps on this process is soften the hides, bring out the grain, dying, moisturize the skin, sanding and adding finish on the leather.

Conditioning the leather
Maintenance of cordovan leather is in some way simple, it just needs to be cleaned with a damp soft cloth and polished with a soft hair brush. The use of any other oil, cream, wax or similar is almost  necessary and  in some cases can become armful to the shell.

Between the more remarkable costumers from Shinki-Hikaku Co. tannery we have found brands like The Flat Head, Real McCoy's and Toy McCoy's. Also Iron Heart offers a luxury line of wallets made with the best cordovan leather. Some prime examples:

The Flat Head long and mid wallet, together with a cordovan card case
R.J.B. cordovan shoes and two The Flat Head long wallets in black cordovan
The Flat Head belt clip