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Leather Quality and Properties

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by VegTan, Jul 8, 2013.

  1. dbhdnhdbh

    dbhdnhdbh Senior member

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    Quote: What a way to treat DWF footwear! But I keep forgetting you made (still make??) boots for real working cowboys.

    So you are you guys implying that Meermin has identified one hallmark of top quality, handwelting, and is delivering that while cutting corners elsewhere? Are people buying these shoes because they are handwelted, assuming that all the other craftspersonship DWF describes is there, but are actually getting shoes made to less lofty standards?

    As I said, visible signs of authentic frugality appeal to me. If someone made shoes to really great manufacturing standards, but one paid nothing more for their beauty, style, wholecut construction, etc, then I would at least be interested. It would still depend on price.
     
  2. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    With all due respect, it doesn't appeal to me. I've seen it done and I've even done it in certain circumstances where there was no other choice.

    But all other things being equal it comes back to a quip that I am almost famous (or infamous) for:

    When you get into this business you have to make a choice--either to make shoes or to make money. Because you can't do both. Every subsequent decision will pivot off that first one." And the outcomes, as well as the road traveled, will be significantly different...even mutually exclusive when viewed from the long perspective.

    And the corollary to that is that every time a customer makes a choice between excellence and frugality, favouring frugality, they limit their own future choices and the future choices of everyone else.

    Of course the same thing applies to makers--every time a maker decides to switch to GY he is simultaneously making a choice to switch from good leather to mediocre leather (even if it doesn't happen immediately) and ultimately from mediocre leather to leatherboard. And eventually you end up with a situation where there is only one tannery left in the entire world (where once there were hundreds) which produces the quality of leather insole that Baker produces...and Baker's continued existence is not assured.

    And so it goes until corrected grain leather is more common than calf, until heel bases, and toe and heel stiffeners are all paperboard or plastic. Until all the skilled inseamers and bottomers are gone. Until even the makers of hand tools are are forced out of business for lack of demand--like Geo. Barnsley not too many years ago.

    And then what? The answer is right in front of our faces--plastic shoes with thermo-injected outsoles. Tres chic in some circles even now.

    It's all driven by demand and ignorance.

    The customer has a choice too--maybe the final, irrevocable choice: to be a brand whore or to be someone who understands and is knowledgeable...and as a result, necessarily protective of...quality shoemaking. Whether they can afford it or not--the knowledge and the understanding is what is at issue here. We may not be able to stop progress but the least we can do is deplore its excesses.

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  3. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Make shoes or make money, be a brand whore or a devotee of quality shoemaking - you are the master of the truly absurd false dichotomy. I'm sure that in your mind the world is divided by bright lines into separate and incompatible categories - but it's only in your mind.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. sinnedk

    sinnedk Senior member

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    Hey Guys,

    I started reading this thread in the beginning when it had 1-2 pages and found it pretty interesting. I also found that the leather discussed is mostly calf (i may be mistaking). Since i did not follow the thread for the past 40 pages and my questions were asked then please just direct me to the right page.

    1. What are considered best leathers in terms of quality for shoes? For example, shell cordovan, horse, calf, donkey, kangaroo, stingray, bison, etc. Maybe toughest would be the better question?
    2. Which leathers age the best? Which would be best for longevity?

    I am curious because i know MC shoes focus mostly on calf and shell cordovan. Of course there is alligator, crocodile, etc, I personally find those a bit tacky but thats just me. However, sw&d makes such as CCP, MA+, Guidi, A1923 have various other options. I notice Kangaroo, donkey, bison etc. I like the looks and the different graininess those leathers have. But i shy away because i simply dont know the longevity. Hence, i am asking this thread why calf and shell cordovan? Are they proven to be the better lasting or easier to obtain?

    curious to find out some thoughts

    @DWFII, as i understand you make shoes for a living? maybe you have the most insight...
     
  5. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    You know what? I don't recall anyone in this entire thread asking your opinion--your blind, flies in the eyes opinion.

    You just keep jumping in like some self-centered, whiny child who feels like he's being neglected.

    You don't like my opinion--one founded on many years of experience; of actually doing not just mouthing off, of getting dirty; of literally blood sweat and tears, there's an app for that.
     
  6. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Hi D,

    I don't need an invitation to participate in this or any other thread. And I don't need your permission, either. I do have a theory that would comprehensively explain your obsession with both horrible stench and flies in your eyes, but I'll let you figure it out. Besides, I prefer to leave the childish name-calling to you - it amuses me no end.

    It's not a matter of liking your opinion or not - it's that what you have said here makes no sense whatsoever. You can either make shoes or make money? Seriously? So any individual maker or company actually making enough money to stay in business isn't really making shoes? Ridiculous. If many years of experience led you to that and other patently absurd conclusions, then you did not put those years to best use.

    By the way - just a point to consider - quoting yourself is generally regarded as an act of intellectual masturbation - best to keep that kind of thing private.

    Be well.
     
  7. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    It depends on what purpose and what your preference is. Each leather you mentioned has its own unique characteristics. i don't care for shell--technically it's not even leather in the sense that we commonly associate with calf or any other tanned skin.. Horse donkey are not readily available here in the states although mule used to be a staple. Kangaroo is thin, lightweight and yet has the greatest tensile strength of any leather known to man given its thickness. Stingray has probably the loosest fiber mat of any skin I've ever encountered.

    Calf is the staple. Not cow. In all leather the younger the animal the denser the fiber mat and the finer the finish.

    Longevity is more a function of maintenance, tannage and usage rather than the inherent quality of the animal skin. Some leathers are more durable and scuff resistant with elephant and large reptiles being at the top of the list and kid/goat sheep at the bottom.

    Cordovan has a relatively fine break. This is due to the density of the fiber mat. cordovan can also be somewhat easy to tear (one of the reasons I'm not fond of it). Good quality calf perhaps just behind it with better tensile strength and stretch (some is good). Leathers like bison tend to have a coarser fiber structure and generally stretch more...and in my opinion are not as successful for strictly dress shoes although if vegetable tanned they can make a very nice casual to dress shoe. The break on them will never be a non-trivial issue.

    If I could only choose one leather for my "one" shoe, it would be a really good grade of calf--probably the best mix of strength, durability, finish and conformity to the requirements of the foot.


    Only if you don't give any weight to ignorant speculation...:cool:

    Seriously, I hope this helps.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
    2 people like this.
  8. chogall

    chogall Senior member

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    It doesn't make sense for Meermin to only do clicking and closing in China; the most labor intensive part is the inseaming and welting. And, if, say, Meermin tightened up their QA and jack up their LM BOM/labor by 20% and keeping the same margin profile, the price will be around $550 retail, including import duty. That is cheaper than Vass but unfortunately it does take additional fix cost outlays.

    I said Vass is mediocre because they do make shoes according to the spec for €400 retail price. Very fine shoes for the spec, but cost savings in materials must be expected. I do not doubt that Vass is capable of producing shoes at the spec similar to Saint Crispins, but Vass won't be able to sell those at the current pricing scheme without taking a loss. At the OEM world, you do more or less get what you paid.
     
  9. chogall

    chogall Senior member

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    Talking about reptiles, what's the difference between Cayman, Croc, and Alligator? I read that quality wise Alligator being the highest, Croc in the middle and Cayman is the low price/quality alternative. What are your thoughts?
     
  10. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I'd put croc at the top, alligator next and I'd never make a pair of shoes or boots from caiman.

    Not much difference in alligator and croc--you'd almost have to work with it and feel it to see the difference. Crocodile usually has smaller, somewhat rounder tiles relative to size than alligator.

    Caiman has brittle inclusions (can't think of the technical name) that not only make the leather rigid but subject to deep cracking anywhere the leather is flexing across them.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
  11. dibadiba

    dibadiba Senior member

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    DWF already gave a good reply for this. Caiman is indeed inferior. The flanks are quite soft and are great for belts, but the centre scales are full of osteoderms that make them very stiff. They also don't take dye very well.

    Between alligator and crocodile, it mostly comes down to preference. Alligators have a larger head and tail, giving better cutting yields. I find the head to be really nice for wallets.
    The porosus crocodile (saltwater crocodile) is generally considered to be the 'premium' leather compared to the others. Other than that, crocodile and alligator are generally considered interchangeable.
     
    1 person likes this.
  12. bengal-stripe

    bengal-stripe Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    The finest and most expensive leather of all the crocodilians is Crocodile Porosus (Australian Saltwater Crocodile), which has the smallest and most evenly shaped tiles,

    [​IMG]

    In recent years, Hermes has virtually acquired a world-wide monopoly to this leather through their subsidiary HCP (Hermes Cuirs Precieux).
     
  13. dbhdnhdbh

    dbhdnhdbh Senior member

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    Isn't there a third direction? Ultimate quality shoes, brand whore, OR me:

    I want reasonably well made shoes, for a realistic price. I don't care about being fashionable. I don't care about "style", and I certainly am not trying to impress anyone by wearing famous brand shoes. I want shoes that fit in, unnoticed, at work. I don't want compliments or complaints. I just want them to look more or less like everyone else's shoes.

    Other than Lobb bespoke for idle curiosity, I have not priced truly handmade shoes. I saw that the Lobbs were 3090 pounds, just short of $5,000 US. That would be more than I have paid for all the footwear I own. Given the amount of time and expertise required to produce fully handmade shoes, I accept that they should be expensive. Maybe not $5,000, but expensive. Even if one could get bespoke handmade for much less, say $2,000 (I have no idea) with Lobb quality but without the Lobb name and traditions, that would still be far, far more than I could contemplate paying for a pair of shoes.

    It is not just surviving my wife finding the bill. It is even more my concept of myself. If I were to buy a pair of bespoke handwelted shoes I could not get out of my head thoughts like "Look at you, your Majesty! Machine made shoes like we peasants wear are not good enough for your royal feet? Well aren't you special!"

    I wear, and want, peasant shoes. Working man's shoes. Volks shoes. I am not important enough to own world class handmade shoes. I am worthy of "regular" shoes, like everyone else.

    So, given a choice between

    A. "the shoemaker carefully pored through dozens of samples and found this set of perfectly matched hides. Working by natural light, he painstakingly assessed the tint, texture and feel of the leather. The shoemaker has supplied the footwear for every royal wedding party and christening for the last 30 years. Using your own personal lasts, and doing every step himself by hand, he built these near perfect creations. They are shipped with their own three-piece lasted trees in your choice of fine polished hardwoods. For your satisfaction, they can be stained to match the cherry finish in your shoe closets. Have your shoe butler supply us with color correct photos. $5,000"

    and

    B. "These shoes were made reasonably well. The factory made as much use of all the leather as it could, wasting as little as possible. If there were small pieces left over, the shoes were assembled from multiple such pieces. This keeps the overall prices down. We think they are quite sturdy, and the seams are placed at points were they will not compromise the strength of the shoes. The shoes were not made by hand, no one associated with their manufacture has a warrant from the Queen, and His Royal Highness would not be caught dead in them. Thirty years ago, when they were new, they were good enough for lawyers, plumbers, and other working people. Now that they are used, they are good enough for you. $50, shipped, from ebay"

    I choose B.

    From the perspective of conserving resources, there is no comparison." B" is less wasteful. "A" also cannot compete on price. Even if the handmade shoes lasted longer, they would have to last many times my lifetime to begin to make up for the price difference.

    So, for someone whose preference is "B", what should I look for?
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
    2 people like this.
  14. jerrybrowne

    jerrybrowne Senior member

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    Allen Edmonds.
     
    3 people like this.
  15. JermynStreet

    JermynStreet Senior member

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    What really baffles me is why someone who just wants to "fit in" joins StyleForum. I do not mean that in a condescending way at all, but isn't the whole point of this website to look at the outer fringes of fine mens' couture?

    DBH, with all due respect, if your goal is simply to "fit in," why are you asking these questions? You have just said that you would choose $50 option B, so go with that...?

    Lastly, I greatly respect DWF's work and hope that one day, when I have enough free time and money, that I can attend one of DWF's classes. But I am having trouble understanding the statement about "making shoes or making money," also. DWF, perhaps, since you are in the trade, you are in the best position to answer this, but how, in your estimation, do places like John Lobb Bespoke et. al. stay open if they are not reasonably profitable? I would think the rent alone in London and Paris would be significantly cost prohibitive, but by all accounts, it looks like the JLB operation continues to grow at a fast rate, especially with the business from newly rich Russia and China flowing into London. Any thoughts are appreciated, and thank you for your time DWF.
     
  16. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    That's not the issue. Stop and give it some thought. What I said makes sense entirely. Either you are a brand whore or you put yourself into a position...open your mind enough...to understand something about shoes and how they are made, even if it's only what feels good to you. If you don't do that then you are at the mercy of the public relations department. And the advertising hype that bombards us from every direction.

    Think about it...why do you buy a pair of shoes? Were you wandering barefoot in the wilderness and just happened upon a shoe store? Do you buy your shoes like many buy their groceries...mainly because the TV told them that Heinz ketchup was the best or the cheapest today..."only at Safeway? "

    Or do you buy your shoes because you know that at such and such a price point you will get enough value and a good enough fit to make you feel you got your monies worth? And how do you know that? Questioning, researching, study--even as simply as asking about various aspects of shoemaking here on SF?

    Without that knowledge, without that curiosity, without that deliberation, the only information/basis you have to make any choice is brand name or other people's recommendations (which is fundamentally the same thing). Of course as I've said, ignorance can also be a choice.

    The same overarching point applies to the issue of choosing to make shoes versus choosing to make money. I have made money making shoes. I tell people...half tongue in cheek...that I am essentially "landed gentry." I started out dirt poor. At 67, I don't owe a dime to anyone. I own my own house, a recent model car, my shop building and all therein and several thousands of dollars of high end fly fishing equipment. I drink only premium beers and decent single malts. Aside from the fly fishing equipment and the single malt, nothing rising above the commonplace or mundane, however--just the ordinary fruits of honest labour. Yes, I have made money, but I didn't get there choosing to make money. I got there choosing to give my best as far as I understood it. No compromise--your best is your best or it's not. Period.

    And when I chose to make shoes...from that first shoe onward, every subsequent choice I made regarding techniques, materials etc.. was in service to the idea of best practices and finest quality--the search for excellence. Never about the bottom line or the profit margin or even the cost of raw materials. That's what is meant about choosing--what is your Job One? What governs your day to day operations and decisions. Quality shoes were always Job One, profit was Job Seven.

    If a person chooses to make money, every decision has to be weighted against the bottom line, against profit. And every company that takes that road ends up not only degrading the product from where it began but painting themselves into a corner from which they cannot return to previous levels of quality. If you've fired every bottom man in the house and replaced all your hand tools and skill workers with GY machines and factory drones...how can you retool to do handwelting? You can't...the stockholders will not allow it.

    Name one old, venerable, company that started life as a small workshop making high end handwelted men's shoes, decided to expand and "modernize" the line, cut costs and substitute even a tiny bit lower grade of materials for what they had been using, which has ever...ever...reversed course and gone back to the techniques and materials and philosophies that the firm was founded upon. I don't know of any. I don't think there are any.

    John Lobb has said "we have turned our backs on the machine." What choice do you think they made? And after several centuries they remain one of the premier...really and truly premier...shoemakers in the world. Arguably because they have remained true to their principles and their vision. All the sneering "Know-Nothings" in the world can't change that nor gainsay others who admire and follow the same path. They still hold a Royal Warrant. Ask yourself why? 'Nuff said.

    Choices. We all choose one way or the other. Some choose to remain ignorant. Some can have an explanation spelled out for them, in detail, point by point and never understand it--"there is none so blind...." I believe that's a choice...call me naive but have a hard time believing that there are those so mind-bogglingly dull that it's anything but a choice. Some people want everything handed to them...including attention and respect...without ever having to work for it. Without ever having to think. Without ever having to contribute anything constructive or positive.

    I've worked for everything I have...and at 67 I have the luxury, and a certain satisfaction with life, that allows me to be generous and reach out to folks and share my experiences and my knowledge, no charge. My glory days are behind me. I'm fine with that--I've been there,bought the T-shirt, paid my dues.

    But that's why I know about choices and their consequences...

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
    4 people like this.
  17. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I appreciate your open-mindedness and willingness to ask for clarification rather than bluster and sneer as some would do.

    See my above post.

    But if that doesn't answer bear in mind that I didn't say you couldn't make money while making shoes nor did I say you couldn't make shoes while making money. I said you had to choose--had to choose which would be your ultimate goal, your focus, as who should say.

    Because no man can serve two masters.
    And call me DW...it's shorter and less likely to be confused with DFW--which is an Internationally famous airport somewhere in Texas. :crackup:

    --
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2013
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  18. taxgenius

    taxgenius Senior member

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    [​IMG]
     
  19. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    No, that's not at all what you said:


    Quote:
    Not at all a suggestion of a primary focus. Not one MORE than the other. One OR the other. NOT both. You even bolded it. A false dichotomy if I ever saw one.

    Glad to see that you have moved away from that absurdity.
     
  20. cogbog

    cogbog Member

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    Thanks a lot, DW. Sounds like you're not particularly excited about latigo.


    Another question for DW or anyone. What happens to suede as it ages? I mean, presumably it doesn't crack and become unusable, does it? Does it just grow rattier and rattier, or will it ever fail in some obvious way?
    Would there be any benefit to applying some sort of conditioner or oil to the grain side of suede?
     

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