When we hear the term exotic leather we automatically think of snakeskin, crocodile or ostrich. But the spectrum of exotics is much larger than that; in fact, the definition of exotic leather comprises alligator to chicken legs and even elephant skin. Due to rising demand for exotics, luxury fashion houses are now trying to make their products even more exclusive by acquiring animal farms and tanneries. For instance, LVHM owns a crocodile farm while Kering invested in a tanning facility, specialising in crocodile skins. So why is exotic leather so covetable? Mainly because of the unique texture, colour and feel. And while bovine leather is flooding the market, only 1% of globally traded leather is exotic- adding to its value. Because of the great variety in exotics, here we will explore the precious skins that frequently pass through our atelier and also touch base on the tanning process of exotic leathers. Want to see exactly how we repair exotics? Take a look at our case studies Snakeskin Louboutin Pumps, Exotic Skin Clutch & The Miami Croc Bag.
Alligator skin is soft, delicate and highly expensive. Despite its softness, alligator does not tend to stretch out, mostly due to the hard scales that can have a bony structure. However, the skin is more pliable than that of other reptiles. Therefore, alligator is usually easy to cut, stitch or fold. And how do you tell alligator and crocodile apart you wonder? Luckily, crocodile has dot-sized pores on the croc scales while the alligator remains smooth in texture.
One of the most sought-after exotics, crocodile is very expensive and a somewhat durable but mostly a delicate material. The most expensive type of Hermès leather is for instance the Matte Porosus crocodile sourced from Australia. The Porosus can be distinguished by the small markings on the surface that are the remnants of the sensory pores to help the crocodile navigate in water. This type of crocodile skin, that’s taken from the belly of the animal, also has very fine, symmetrical scales- that makes the leather so expensive. Crocodile skin is available in a matt or shiny version, where the latter is buffed vigorously to achieve the desired affect. Ironically, both alligator and crocodile skins must be kept away from water to prevent spots that do not fade.
Generally produced from commercially farmed sea snakes, the leather is thin, flexible and delicate. Snakeskin has a very particular grain and scales that protect the snake from outside elements as it sheds off the dead skin. The size of the scales depends on the age of the snake and the area of the skin that was cut. Snakeskin can appear dry after the tanning process and natural colour pattern is normally bleached to achieve evenly coloured skin. Besides bags, snakeskin is mostly used to create footwear.
Out of all exotic leathers, ostrich is the most durable and has a thick, luxurious feel. The natural oils in the leather keep it soft and supple and prevent cracking despite extreme exposure to heat. Though it has water resistant qualities, it should be noted that the skin naturally darkens over time. Each follicle that contained a feather leaves a quill pattern –and an actual hole - behind and the area with the most feather socket markings is the most coveted and naturally also the most expensive piece of the leather.
Stingray is the Superman of exotic leathers as it’s almost immune to scuffs, scratches and sometimes, even punctures. Unlike any other material, the fibres present in the leather run inconsistently, which makes it difficult to tear. Additionally, stingray doesn’t stain and is naturally water resistant. On the other hand, the very rigid skin with small bone like scales is very difficult to cut or sew into and can break needles. And because of the limited size of the leather panels it takes much longer to manufacture.
Even in the realm of exotics, lizard is a bit of a rarity. Made out of the hides of African water monitors, lizard is also a very delicate skin type that runs the risk of drying out if not regularly serviced. It’s what we would call high maintenance leather, as it requires special attention and should be kept at a comfortable temperature to avoid peeling or, as previously mentioned, drying.
There are two main processes in exotic leather tanning, namely vegetable tanning and chrome tanning. Vegetable tanning is a method whereby natural tannins, from tree bark and fruits and leaves, are used to give the leather a certain shade of brown. It’s an eco-friendly alternative to chrome tanning- a highly chemical process, which can damage the environment. However, the largest drawback of vegetable tanning is that it tends to discolour when damaged by water. Contrary, chrome tanning allows for more vibrant and opaque colours without the risk of discolouration due to the chromium sulfates and salts.
Whatever the skin and whatever the tanning method, exotic leathers require a bit of extra help to preserve longevity of a product. That’s why The Restory treats these as bespoke and individually tailored services so all you have to think of is passing it down to the next generation. Our Client Services Team will answer all your exotic leather queries sent to firstname.lastname@example.org