Material Guide for Leather

Inspired by the Duke of Chesterfield, leather furniture, mainly sofas, have been a rage since early 18 th century. Leather is a durable material created by tanning raw animal hides. Leather furniture offers high durability and is superbly elegant. Further, leather couches impart a classic appeal to the interiors. But, one must be able to tell the difference between genuine leather and faux leather. Following points indicate on how to find good leather.

  • Price: Genuine leather goes through several stages of processing, from obtaining animal hide to the final product. Hence, it is more expensive. Further, look for labels as they indicate the classification of leather. Tags stating the furniture upholstery is genuine leather, nubuck, pure aniline, semi-aniline or pigmented leather ensures an authentic leather piece.
  • Appearance: Genuine leather has uneven pattern of clear pores visible on the surface. Natural hide markings, grain characteristics and "fat wrinkles" are inherent in the animal it came from. "Fat wrinkles" refer to actual wrinkles in the leather caused by the animal's fat deposits, and they offer additional aesthetic appeal. Good-quality leather is full grain, meaning it's dyed with transparent aniline dyes to retain the appearance of the full natural grain. The upholstery seams and edges can also determine if the leather is real or manmade. Smooth, perfect edges tend to indicate faux leather, while rough, uneven edges are more prevalent in genuine leather.
  • Smell and touch: Genuine leather may smell smoky, with a rich aroma, whereas faux leather smells like a plastic and of chemicals. Also, fat wrinkles in real leather have soft suppleness and an uneven feel to them. Plus it is more warm and pliable to touch in comparison to cold and with unusually even pattern of pores.
  • Grain: There are two types of grain in leather, top and full grain. Full grain (Grade 1 leather) comes from the top layer of the hide which has all of the grain, therefore, full grain. The natural surface of full grain leather burnishes and beautifies with use. Whereas, top grain leather (Grade 2 leather) is the second highest grade because it is split from the top layer of blemished hide then sanded and refinished. This is how they get rid of scars and scrapes and light cow brands. Top grain leather does not age nicely with use, but it is very strong and durable.
  • Thickness: Leather is usually measured in terms of ounces. One ounce equals 1/64th of an inch thickness. Thus, a weight of 7 to 8 oz. means the leather is 7/64th to 8/64th of an inch thickness. In an effort to make leather a uniform thickness, hides are run through a splitting machine. However, each animal is different and there is always a slight thickness variation throughout the hide. This is why leathers are usually shown with a range of thickness, such as, 4 to 5 oz., 6 to 7 oz., etc.
  • Treatments: Genuine leather is treated in a number of ways to reduce the odour and make the hide pliable for covering furniture. Some common treatments include vegetable tanning, chromium tanning, aldehyde tanning, synthetic tanning, and alum tanning. Some high quality leather is also produced through brained tanning, which involves using animal brains or other fatty materials to alter the leather.

Along with the above general characteristics, leather qualities also depend on what animal it is are procured from.

  • Cowhide: Cowhide is well known for its toughness. It’s very strong and tends to be heavier than goatskin. The Cowhide that we use is an ultra-luxurious “high-end” cowhide with a very pleasing grain and is incredibly soft and supple. This type of leather is a common for Indian leather industry and dominates the products made here.
  • Goatskin: Goatskin is very good all-around leather. It is durable enough to be made into some fine furniture. It is lighter than cowhide and is generally quite supple, requiring little break-in time. Goatskin has a pleasing “pebble” grain. A low percentage of Indian leather tanneries work with this leather.
  • Deerskin: It is the toughest leather, partially due to adaptations to their thorny and thicket filled habitats. It is very rare and hence commands a high price. Accessories, like bags, and wallets are made out of it. Deerskin is not manufactured in India, but can be imported.
  • Nubuck: It is top-grain cattle hide leather that has been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers, producing a velvet-like surface.  It is a premium variety and can be found in India.