Choosing the right leather

Posted by Carole Richet on

How do you know real leather?

Leather used in the manufacture of handbags comes from a variety of animal skins, for example; cowskin, pigskin or deerskin, to produce a range of processed leather based materials. Generally, the hide is processed using chemicals in a large vat after which it is then split by removing the top layer which is the best quality. Depending on the process the leather is then categorised as; full aniline or sauvage, pull up aniline, semi-aniline, pigmented, nubuck (also called chaps, stonewashed or suede) and bicast leathers (coated leather).

Full Aniline or Full Sauvage

Perhaps the purest of leather processes due to the fact that the leather is only treated with soluble aniline dyes. This means that the natural grain of the animal skin, including any blemishes are visible. In this case, selection is very painstaking and only the best leathers are taken making them very expensive. Although full aniline leather absorbs liquid due to the pores in the hides, the absence of a top coat treatment means they can breathe and dry.

Other variations of aniline leather are pull up aniline and semi aniline. Pull up aniline leather is treated in the same way as aniline, however, it has an extra treatment of oil or waxy effects on its surface. The result is a more aged look rather like a distressed effect but can be worn with use and become lighter in those areas. This leather is also subject to scratches.

Semi-aniline leather is dyed as above but will have a finished coating on the skin. The advantage of this process is that while the leather retains its soft feel, the finishing layer will be more protective and durable.

Aniline leathers are often used in the manufacture of handbags and clothes


Not all leather products are suited to the "natural" look and therefore, by buffing the natural skin blemishes and natural scarring can be reduced. After this, the leather is treated with opaque pigments (colours) and embossed with a grain texture which gives a more uniform colour and resistance to fading.

Nubuck (chaps, stonewashed or suede)

Nubuck is produced when the top layer of the hide is brushed or sanded to expose the the fibres of the skin leaving a velvety surface. It is often confused with suede, however, suede is derived from the underside of the hide. Nubuck is often more expensive than suede and is dyed heavily to disguise the inconsistencies. It is soft and velvety, will darken when wet, but will return to its original colour when dry.

The above leathers are often referred to as top grain leathers and tend to be more expensive and better quality.

Split Leathers

Once the top level has been separated, a base layer is left. it retains the qualities of the leather but with no texture and so is embossed with texture and dyed for colour. This can feel like a top grain leather but cheaper versions can feel thin and paper-like.

Bicast or Coated Leather

Bicast leather is also known as PU leather and is produced by using split leather, bonded leather or the whole leather not yet split. The sheet is coated with melted glue and polyurethane on the top which is embossed. The leather is dyed with dark colours which lighten when stretched.

Bonded Leather

During the manufacturing process many leather fibres are surplus, but when combined with latex in sheet form, a bonded leather product is created. This is a more modern process that produces a leather that looks like the bicast leathers.

Faux Leather

Is as it says, false leather! The quality is such in modern manufacturing processes that it can be difficult to distinguish between this and some of the bicast or PU products unless you examine the underside of the material.

In conclusion, it can be confusing when you buy leather products and accessories such as handbags to know if you are buying quality. As documented, there are various purities and combinations of the base material used to make the goods, so choosing say a real leather handbag can be difficult. What does one expect when they buy a handbag that states; "genuine leather" or 100% leather"?. If a product is purchased it may not age with the suppleness or patina that a true leather item would do, however, price is often a consideration and the trick is to find, say a handbag, that ages well, doesn't scratch easily, soil in the damp and is priced well.

Leather Care Master UK

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