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Leather Quality and Properties

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

  1. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    If we can imagine ...or draw on the discoveries of paleontologists...it's not all that hard to understand that tanning is indeed a natural process. Imagine a tree struck by lightening. An animal of some sort is sheltering under it from the storm . The strike kills the animal, shatters the tree, "debriding" large sections of bark onto the ground near the trunk. The rain fills the depression that the animal was sleeping in and soaks the bark. Weeks, months, later one of our distant forebears comes upon the carcass that has steeped in bark infused liquor and discovers that the hide is not only intact, it is amazingly supple.

    Voila! Veg tan.

    Or during a cold snap, homo neanderthalensis decides to wrap himself in the skin of a freshly slaughtered cave bear--Ursus spelaeus. It's warm. But it gets stiff..still better than nothing...until after repeated exposure to grease and wood smoke our ancient forefather finds that the hide is much much softer and lasts longer.

    Chamois is produced using similar methods and the white leather that Native Americans use is brains (grease, fat) and wood smoke...nothing else, except elbow grease.

    Of course that's all speculation but not having degrees in chemistry it is doubtful our ancestors could have invented tanning whole cloth.

    Up to a point...where actual functional defects are being obscured or camouflaged by grain correction...I have no problem with scotch grain or hatch grain, top finishes or even shrunken grain. Each has characteristics that could be considered flaws but it's still leather, after all.

    I don't have much truck with prints that emulate other leathers--such as faux ostrich or printed alligator, etc.. It's just another deception...for no good purpose.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  2. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    I hope I'm not repeating, here, what others have said. Isn't all leather corrected in some way? Presumably, no-one has a pair of shoes that is made of leather that has come straight off the animal, without any 'correction'. However, this is a doomed argument. If all shoe leather is corrected in some way, we no longer need the word 'corrected'. It would just be a process that necessarily takes place between taking the hide of the animal and the making of a pair of shoes. We probably need to use the word 'corrected' in a very specific sense. And I ain't got the required knowledge to say what that very specific sense would look like.
     
  3. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    If the definition of "natural" ...esp. in this context...is that human beings have not changed, modified or had any input into the sourcing or usage of a material, nothing in this world (shoemaking/clothing) is natural. But then it sort of begs the question...is it like the physics conundrum of needing an "observer?" Or is it just a silly imposition of someone's singular and uninformed or ill-reasoned opinion?

    I personally think that as long as there is a direct connection/relation between the material/object and human beings...at every step, from harvesting to consumption...the "naturalness" cannot really be questioned. If only because human beings are part and parcel of life on this planet. As much as some would like to deny that fact.

    Beyond that, and on a more practical level of consideration, people have been wearing footwear that came straight off the animal since time out of mind (one of the first kinds). And even more so with just a little intervention--as with the examples given in my previous post. Up until the late 19th, early 20th century all shoes, and all parts of the shoe, were veg tanned.

    Dyes were derived from vegetable or mineral sources. Just as paint was/is. A very good black dye can be made from iron filings steeped in vinegar (urine?)...only works with veg tanned leathers. Finish coats were oils, resins and other paints.

    Many modern crusts...which are used as is...are undyed veg tans

    None of it exists without human intervention.

    As far as "corrected grain" as a term is considered...if you think about it, it is nearly self-explanatory without a lot of navel gazing. "Corrected" means that the default surface is either so damaged or so unsightly (or even undesirable) that it must be changed or covered up to be sold and utilized. I've never considered, nor tried to make the case that Scotch grain and the like were corrected grain leathers...even though it is technically true that the grain has been altered/corrected.

    That too exists only with human intervention, in that with corrected grain, it is...as it so often is...the bottom line that is at issue. Because before the emergence of modern synthetics and technology (further widening the gap between the materials and human beings) "corrected grain" leathers did not exist. Leathers that would otherwise find no market, that might have had to be discarded, could now be sold and a profit made.

    Yippee! [​IMG]

    --
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
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  4. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    I just spent an hour putting together a response to DWFII's comment on faux animal print shoes. [​IMG] And it disappeared into a black hole [​IMG] I had honed a literary masterpiece.

    On the other hand, thanks for your detailed response about corrected grain leather, DWFLL. Very much appreciated.
     
  5. MoneyWellSpent

    MoneyWellSpent Senior member

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  6. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    I hate that! And as loquacious and long-winded as I am you can imagine how much I hate it.
     
  7. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    Thanks for your condolences, chaps. It was never meant to be.

    It was a response to DWFII's comment:

    'I don't have much truck with prints that emulate other leathers--such as faux ostrich or printed alligator, etc.. It's just another deception...for no good purpose'.

    This is a quick summary of what you could have enjoyed:

    I'm not sure it is often a case of deception. I wouldn't think too many people buy these sorts of shoes with the intention of confounding others. I would have thought that they were, more often, bought because they are fun. A value judgement arises here and it is probably a lot to do with age, but I would have thought that the 'good purpose' is to enjoy the shoes.

    As Jay Mcinerney said: 'Taste is a matter of taste'.

    (Be assured that the original was so much more profound.)
     
  8. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    You're focused on the consumer...understandable.

    But why not make a leather that is pretending to be expanded steel? Or brick wall?

    What reason is there for the manufacturer to make a leather that is pretending to be something it isn't? Just as some construction methods result in shoes that pretends to be something they aren't. Money? Yes, money.

    And in the process devaluing the real thing. We raise bovines for food. On farms. Calf skin is a by-product.

    Alligators and lizards and elephants...and even ostrich...are relatively rare and often difficult to tan or process into durable goods. They should cost us more. Realistically. Alligator has always been a hallmark of elegance and wealth.

    So the consumer gets a print--no pain (low cost)....but no gain either. None of the material benefits of the genuine leather. No recognition of the distinction between the real thing and the phoney. No insights into the nature of quality or worth. But, for chump change he can pretend...and hope to fool his friends...that he can afford the genuine article.

    And it doesn't decrease the demand for the real thing at all...indeed the case can be made that it actually increases the demand for the real thing. While at the same time undermining the value of both the animal (its life) and the leather derived from it.

    At bottom, it's just my opinion...as a shoemaker and user of leather, profiting from the slaughter of animals, it's true...but still just a personal preference.

    --
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  9. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    Yes, DWFII, I can fully understand what you are saying. Sadly, or otherwise, there are shoe makers who are quite happy to produce leather shoes that look as if they are made of something else. Oliver Sweeney make shoes that seem to be made of chrome - and they are not cheap shoes. Doc Marten make all manner of shoes and boots that look like something else. As someone who knows so little about the field, I can only imagine that these shoes are made of inferior leather as a backing for the outer finish. Is there an argument for using something other than leather in the manufacture of these shoes?

    I appreciate that you can't extrapolate from a sample of one, but I have two pairs of Doc Marten shoes which have faux lizard uppers. I like them because they are so comfortable and - like if or not - I like the way they look (and-sadly- i'm not a dizzy 18 year old). There is a certain irony here. I have shoes that are much more expensive than these that seem unlikely to be as comfortable. Is there any argument for utility here? Looking beyond the outer finish to the shoes, maybe the underlying leather isn't as bad as we might imagine and and the comfort (or utility value) of the shoes overrides what has been done to them. On the other hand, is it simply a case of cheap leather being covered by something slightly odd. If this is the case, why can they feel so comfortable? Or would you want to say 'my slippers feel very comfortable, but I wouldn't want to wear them all the time?'

    Is there a case for 'beautiful shoes that aren't so comfortable to wear', as opposed to 'mediocre shoes that are very comfortable to wear?' How do we come down on one side of the other?
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  10. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Quote:Did you buy those shoes believing them to be genuine lizard? Does Doc Marten advertise them as genuine lizard? Aesthetics are a matter of personal preference, but there can be no objectionable deception without false pretense. My daughter has a pair of fuzzy leopard print snowboots of which she is extremely fond. She is under no misapprehension that they are real leopard fur - and likely wouldn't touch them if they were. I suspect (though correct me if I'm wrong) that you were well aware of what you were purchasing, found the aesthetics appealing and made your purchase accordingly. If so, I fail to see where manufacturer, retailer or purchaser should be subject to criticism. I'm not fond of reptile skin shoes - genuine or imitation. But I don't conflate my personal preferences with rules of general application.
     
  11. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    Yes, I knew what I was buying and never, for one minute, thought that I was buying the real thing. I don't think that I was being critical of the manufacturer. I was just attempting to tease out a reflection on your point that you are not keen on faux dressings to the tops of shoes.

    No offence meant!
     
  12. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Quote:None taken Munky, and I didn't think for a second that you were being critical of the manufacturer. I was addressing, in a broader context, the suggestion that there is a financial motivation for manufacturers to make laether which is "pretending to be something that it isn't". Which wasn't a suggestion you had made. If there is no misrepresentation, there is no objectionable pretense - and no real motive to achieve financial gain through pretense. It is simply a case of meeting consumer demand for a particular aesthetic - nothing more. Indeed, as I referenced with the leopard fur example, there are certainly some consumers who would prefer the faux item to the genuine article when it comes to certain skins.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  13. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Who are you addressing this to?

    I have a particular antipathy to pretense...in all its forms. I have an antipathy to manufacturers of any product that pretends to be something it is not. If it's not pretense then why the almost desperate attempts to look like what it isn't pretending to be? Why the shameful attempts to characterize a product as the best of the best or the "finest quality...for the discerning few" when it objectively is not. (And the makers tacitly acknowledge that fact, simply by changing their materials and techniques when catering to the real discerning few)

    If deception required cooperation to be deceived no one would be deceived more than once. Better, no one could deceive themselves.

    I have an antipathy to people who pretend to be what they are not...even people they are not. I thought your remarks were addressed to me but apparently not. Or at least not in the minds of some...

    [oh, and BTW, I took no offense, either...although I would reserve the right...despite pathetic and unrelenting third party attempts to co-opt it...to express that for myself.]

    I have an antipathy for people who think their opinions are so important that they just have to share them whether asked or not, whether relevant or not, whether they know anything about the subject or not.

    Do you think your faux lizard shoes would have been less comfortable if they presented the appearance of the native cowhide they are made of? Would they have been less comfortable if you had seen the scars or the discolouration that the print may have been hiding?

    You said people buy faux lizard prints because they are fun. But if fun is the issue why don't chrome finish shoes enjoy a great following here and abroad? Why don't leathers that are plaid or that look like the are covered with leaves enjoy greater popularity? Everybody likes to have fun!

    All other things being equal, would your shoes have been less "fun" if they had been real lizard?

    Finally, I don't know why your faux lizard shoes feel so good to you. Given that shoes of such better quality that you feel the need to mention them don't feel so good, I'd say it has a lot to do with your feet--the tightness or looseness of the ligaments, the bone structure, body fat, age, lack of support or proper fit now and in the past when your feet were "setting" into their adult configurations. Who knows? Some people can never be comfortable no matter what they wear. I wouldn't be surprised if your feet actually feel the best swaddled in foam rubber and nylon.

    But all of these discussions come back to ignorance and denial. I've seen, and confronted it in discussion after discussion from GY construction to the perils of buying used shoes. 30-40 years ago you could have canvassed a broad section of the population about smoking cigarettes and almost 90% of the respondents would have said something along the lines of "Hell, I been smoking all my life and I ain't got cancer yet."

    Again...just my opinions/ biases and druthers and I'm not so wrapped up in pretense that I cannot qualify my remarks as such.

    --
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  14. cbfn

    cbfn Senior member

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    I have to disagree a bit, DW, your meaning only takes construction and truth into account, not aestethics; wouldn't you then look at dyed calf leather to pretend to be something it's not? Certain people like the look of exotic leather but they don't justify the high price jump of the the real leather with regards something which looks «almost» the same and is cheaper; neither do I find people profiting on such a market as villains.

    This reminds me of one guy I met which works for closely with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a business paid mostly by a fee that is required to be paid by everyone who owns a television in Norway. His political stance was against most government intervention and taxes, but he wanted this broadcasting fee increased as he would earn more or go bankrupt without it. As «wrong»(as lack of words for a non-native english speaker) that is, you cannot tell him he is wrong; he is profiting from a market which is there.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  15. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Cbfn - agreed. The line defining objectionable pretense seems to be a capricious construct in this instance.
     
  16. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Again, I guess I started this when I made the point that all non-aniline leather is technically "corrected-grain."

    But the dyed leather is not pretending to be anything other than what it is--leather. The fact that it is dyed doesn't make it something different than what it is, anymore than brown, red, pink, or yellow skin makes a person something other than a human being.

    Beyond that, I say again, it's my bias...coming, as you say, from the perspective of someone whose whole life is about the "construction and truth" of shoemaking. But I must point out that much of that bias is intimately informed by the aethetics of the shoe and the Traditions of shoemaking.

    Finally, I draw your attention to something an earlier American President said--not that he's to be taken as a font of wisdom, simply that for me at least, the sentiments ring true.

    President William McKinley said:

    "“I do not prize the word "cheap." It is not a badge of honor. It is a symbol of despair. Cheap prices make for cheap goods; cheap goods make for cheap men...”​

    I like the looks of exotics myownself--elephant, alligator, lizard, ostrich. I like the genuine article. I despise the fakes. And I can see the difference at a glance. One looks interesting and sometimes elegant, with rich textural and tonal aesthetics & the other just looks cheap.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  17. cbfn

    cbfn Senior member

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    Of course, you have most likely have the biggest bias of all of us, which I fully understand. I also understand that you maybe see faux exotic leather the same way many view homage watches of very known models; trying to be something they knot. However, your quote leaves me with more questions unanswered than understood; is he talking about relative cheapness or universal cheapness; cheap for me, you or him? Cheap as in price with regards to the cost? I am personally a true believer of maximizing my utility with regards to my wealth; I use my own time to research the topic I am interested in, may this be shoes to cars to fountain pens. But time is money, and every second, minute, hour and day has a price and mine is low as this research interest me, but I also fully understand that some people do not; their marginal return of using time to research is not higher than the marginal cost of purchasing goods that are sub-par and probably expensive regarding price/cost - this is sadly the truth.

    Edit: And it was nothing with regards to the corrected grain statement; I was merely pointing out that if you only focus on maximizing quality and not obscuring the truth, the leather should be in its original color with regards to your meaning. This is of course an extreme extrapolation of your statement, but I feel it fits as it seems like your meaning was an absolute.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
  18. RogerP

    RogerP Senior member

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    Indeed. If a person of one colour paints his skin a different colour he is still a human being. But he is pretending to be something he is not - a person of a different colour. Something other than his natural colour. An extreme extrapolation, as you say. But this is the problem with iron-fired absolutes.
     
  19. DWFII

    DWFII Bespoke Boot and Shoemaker Dubiously Honored

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    Well, I don't agree with you there. And to tell the truth, I don't see or accept your logic in that regard. Perhaps that's another aspect of my bias. Or, perhaps it is, instead, an aspect of experience and knowledge and accumulated wisdom....the which, I would argue, informs all my biases, in any event.

    But if your statement were true, StyleForum itself would not exist. It would have no reason to exist. If someone who is honest enough with himself to realize that he cannot afford $1000.00 shoes, goes ahead and buys a pair...you have to ask yourself "Why?!" I can't see any rational reason but I recognize two possibles---one is an irresistible even compulsive need or desire to adorn themselves. The other is pretense--posturing as something and someone they are not. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    When I think of faux lizard leather I am reminded of the practice, in another century, of wearing a shirt well past its due date (for washing). And every time you wished to appear in public, you just put on a false bib/front of clean white paper and suddenly you were genteel and well-heeled and...and clean. Except to those who could smell you.

    I don't dye the leather. That's the way it comes. That's dictated by the cultural and human need to ornament ourselves. If we took your logic to its logical extreme we wouldn't tan it, dye it or make it into shoes. To a small degree, I even deplore inappropriate and illogical antiquing and staining.

    If nothing else, I would suggest that I'm consistent and rational within the definitions of who I am and who I aspire to be.

    --
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2013
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  20. Munky

    Munky Senior member

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    DWFII
    ' I thought your remarks were addressed to me but apparently not. Or at least not in the minds of some...'

    My comments were not meant to be a criticism of you, nor was I talking about you. I was just expressing some opinions that were all my own. They were only 'addressed' to you in the sense that I was writing to you.

    I'm not sure what you meant by 'Or at least not in the minds of some...'


    DWFII
    'I have an antipathy for people who think their opinions are so important that they just have to share them whether asked or not, whether relevant or not, whether they know anything about the subject or not.'

    Ironically, if the above statement was referring to me, I think it is reasonable to share opinions. I don't know who would do the 'asking'. I would have thought that those will less knowledge have much to learn from those who have a great deal.

    I am sorry if I have caused offence. It was in no sense an aim.
     

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