Luxurious leather checklist: What to know before you buy

In this era of mass production and fast fashion, one material has stayed true to form and is still held as the benchmark in luxury design. Leather, handcrafted using the finest skills and best British materials sourced from definitively British raw materials. Luxury leather is all about the cut and quality without compromise, yet with its high demand, some manufacturers will cut corners, confuse consumers and intentionally cheat customers. The potential minefield of defects in ‘leather’ products can catch anyone out if they aren’t fully prepared.

One of the biggest confusions comes from the term ‘Genuine Leather’, especially when displayed in upscale stores with high price tags. Customers trust the reputation of these high-quality brands and assume top quality, but end up being sorely disappointed once the leather has begun to fade and wear down. Unfortunately, a high price doesn’t always equate to quality. Always remember that ‘Genuine Leather’ is not a qualitative term but merely a collective term to categorize products which are made of real leather, regardless of the grain. It is also important to highlight that ‘Genuine Leather’ does not reveal any information about the animal housing or food quality and the tanning process of the leather. In order to judge whether you are buying high quality sourced leather, it is essential to understand the differences in grain. 

The highest quality grain is ‘full grain’, which can be distinguished from other grains by its natural imperfections that include wire cuts, neck wrinkles, stretch marks and scars, all of which foster cherished authenticity. The next quality is ‘top grain’, a slightly misleading term in that it is not from the surface of the animal and is the second best in overall quality. However, its flexibility, refinement process and finishing coat lead it to be used often in high end quality clothing and bags; it is still definitely a mark of good craftmanship. Lastly, there is ‘split grain’, the poorest quality ‘Genuine Leather’ material. Common, varied in use, this grain is a less pure form of leather, often worked with artificial chemicals or processes to produce a more leather-like appearance. For an in depth explanation on this topic, take a look at Nosakhari’s ‘Guide to leather Grains.’

A simple way to spot quality leather is through smell. The aroma of genuine, authentic leather is unmistakable: earthy, rich, with a subtle sweetness, unlike that of cheap alternatives, which are most often made from plastics and result in an unpleasant plastic or chemical smell. Other ways to spot low quality leather are through the context the leather is found in. A leather handbag, even one from a reputable leather bag manufacturer, which has poor stitching or lining is unlikely to be made from the best quality leather. If the leather itself is hard or plastic to the touch, it probably is plastic, or perhaps even ‘bonded leather’, which also parades itself as ‘Genuine Leather’. Manufacturers can do this because it is technically made up of leather, but only the scrapings and refuse from traditional leather grain.

It can be easy to make false investments in leather, but it is worth taking the time to ensure that you make the right choice and get the right return. Genuine, high quality leather is more than a fashion status, it is a reliable, durable material that is the result of thousands of years of human development, using a practice that has been passed down and refined throughout history. By purchasing the right leather, you are patron to an art made with skill love and craftsmanship, right here in the UK.

So, when its time to shop for leather, be sure to remember these key points before making a purchase:

  • Invest in independent quality manufacturers to guarantee superior leather.
  • Question ‘Genuine Leather’. Remember that grain is what counts, not authenticity.
  • Scent – Does it have that real leather smell?
  • Blemishes – Is it unnaturally pristine? 
  • Look at the context – Consider the overall quality of the product’s design such as missed stitches or wonky angles.
  • Trust your instincts – If something doesn’t seem genuine, ask. Genuine retailers will be more than happy to discuss how their leather is sourced and produced.
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