Leather is often considered the ultimate symbol of class and luxury. Because of its dual quality of strength and durability, the material is used to make various products and accessories. Especially furniture. But not all leathers are created equal. What exactly then is genuine leather?
To make the right decision when it comes to purchasing leather furniture, you need to know exactly what you are buying. We have put together a comprehensive guide to hep you do just that.
The Unique History Of Leather
The material is obtained from cattle; their hides to be precise. In its raw state, the hide is thick and unwieldy. It has to be cut into thinner layers before it can be processed. Leather then is used to create Chesterfield sofa, Leather Sofa, Leather Armchairs, and Leather Trunks.
The strength and durability of the material come from two layers that constitute the cow hide: the grain and the corium. The grain consists of fibres arranged tight and compact; they are rigid in nature. The corium by contrast is made of thinner layers of elastic collagen fibres.
When we run our hands on a cow hide, what we touch is called full-grain leather. Because the outer hide is exposed, you will find marks and impressions left by scars, insect bites, and farm branding. When these marks are smoothened over by buffing, followed by embossing and enhancements, you get top-grain leather: A processed version of full grain.
Expert Speak: Full-grain is uneven and spotted, but it is also more durable and stronger than top-grain.This makes it one of the most sought after in the market.
Grain Leather Types
Grain leathers are a bigger category consisting of three different types: aniline leather, semi-aniline leather, and protected leather such as split and genuine leather.
Aniline leather is treated with soluble dyes when processed for manufacturing. The leather is not coated or pigmented. This ensures that the material retains its original texture, including blemishes. The result is that the leather has a natural appearance, but is prone to stains, fading with age, and scratches.
Semi-aniline leather receives the full treatment of coatings that emboss over the markings. The surface becomes smooth and regular like most bridle leathers, receiving protection from scratches and stains.
Protected leather is smoothed with non-leather pigments and coatings to fully protect them. Hence the name.
The base of the leather is a simple part – cut off at the corium or grain. The same part however is often a source of confusion because it is called genuine leather. The confusion arises because ‘genuine leather’, which could also mean full-grain and top-grain, is also used to differentiate the artificial kind from the real variety.
Now there are other names attributed to the same base part: split leather, coated leather, painted leather, corrected leather, embossed leather, and many many more. For better clarity and understanding, we will use split leather.
What you need to know is that split leather is commonly labelled as Genuine Leather all over the world.
Finished Split Leather
Split leather can be sliced into thinner portions. The material is then used to produce a variety of accessories. A common practice is to coat the surface with polymer pigment and embossed it. This bestows the material with a ‘grain leather’ look, called finished split.
Split leather is a versatile material. When the leather is processed to display a napped surface with a downy soft texture, it transforms into suede.
Now suede and nubuck are often confused for one another. The reason being that nubuck has a similar texture. The difference is that nubuck is a grain leather with greater strength and durability. Suede’s softer texture makes it an ideal choice for stylised products and fashion.
Did you know that bonded leather is not leather in the traditional sense. The material is made of scraps and pieces of shredded leather, accumulated and reformed with a filler, then coated with polyurethane. Regarded as as the lowest grade, it has a very cheap price point.
You will find bonded leather in cut-price leather furniture and products, and even in some book bindings. The other names of the material include blended leather or reconstituted leather.
Faux leather, as its name suggests, is not real leather. The material is a a synthetic version, often referred to as PVC leather or PU leather.
The base material constitutes of fabric finished with polyurethane coating. The process gives it a look similar to bonded leather. The only benefit of faux leather is its ultra-low price point. The material will break up in a matter of months.
How To Identify Real Grain Leather
Real Grain leather is one of the most copied products. The cheaper copies are often made with inferior substitutes such as bonded leather, or embossed split leather. But you don’t have to get fooled into buying a copy. You can spot the difference in a number of ways:
- Touch the leather; run your fingers across it. If the surface feels smooth and even, chances are that it is an embossed product. Real grain will have a slightly coarse feel rather than perfect and level.
- The original material will always display a pull-up effect: A slight difference in colour when it is folded or bent.
- Cheaper substitutes with pigments or polyurethane coatings are non-porous. Leather conditioners will hardly penetrate the surface, unlike grain leathers.
A popular test for telling the real apart from the fake is a fire test on the leather. The unfortunate part is that the test is often conducted incorrectly. Moving the lighter fire side by side on the leather surface will not even warm the surface. To conduct a proper test, you need to place the fire near the back or the side of the leather material where the grains are exposed. If it is a genuine product, the grains will burn like natural hair. If not, the material will melt like plastic, emitting a foul smell.
Now that your education in everything leather is almost complete, we go back to the statement we made earlier - Not all leathers are created equal. Depending on the surface textures and characteristics, leather is accorded different grades. The different grades and different names can get a bit confusing. They are sometimes mixed up with one another. Genuine leather is often used to refer to split leather: the bottom part of grain leather. And the same genuine leather is used to describe real leather to differentiate it from the fake.
What you need to remember is the perspective from which the term is used. You can then tell whether it is full-grain or split leather.