Different tannages (types) of Horween Leather that we use
First off...what's a 'tannage'?
“Tannage” is just the process that is applied to a hide to get the eventual material/leather that we use to make our product. So if you start with two sides from the same animal (a full hide is split in half along the spine to get two sides), and apply different tannages to each, you will get a two sides with distinctly different properties; one might be a glossier waxy product that changes color as it’s bent (Chromexcel), while the other could be a more matte finish that is lower stretch, more resistant to scuffs, and does not exhibit color variations (Latigo).
Chromexcel leather (CXL) – Chromexcel is sort of Horween’s bread-and-butter. Alongside Cordovan (below), it’s what Horween is known for, and it’s definitely Shawn’s overall favorite–particularly Natural Chromexcel. When this tannage is applied to a cow hide, you get beautiful pull-up (“Pull-up is the temporary displacement of these oil and wax blends that cause a lightening of the leather.” -Horween). Other tanneries produce pull-up leathers…we just think Horween does a particularly great job at it.
For our products, a regular CXL leather is used when we can use a thicker leather that doesn’t need to be size-critical; CXL will stretch a bit with use to conform to whatever it’s used for…so, we can’t use a regular cowhide CXL leather for a custom length watchband but it works great for an adjustable watchband or a clutch. It will scuff easily, but a little friction with your thumb will remove all but the deepest gouges easily.
Veg Tan leathers – This is SOMEWHAT of a fake name when you’re dealing with Horween. Other tanneries produce a “real” veg tan product, which ages beautifully and develops an incredible patina over time. However, a true veg tan is rather stiff and unwieldy at first, while Horween’s is much softer right from the beginning. Horween’s ‘veg tan’ (or what we call ‘veg tan’) is their Essex/Dublin/Derby (dublin and derby are the base tannage and then re-tanned with a waxier tannage; derby is then tumbled to give it a somewhat aged look). Essex/Dublin/Derby are also relatively high stretch leathers, like Chromexcel, so they’re used for products where a bit of stretch is fine. We love the feel and patina of the veg tan hides.
Latigo leathers – Latigo tannage produces a hide without any pull-up characteristics (where the leather temporarily lightens with stretch/crease/pressure). It is a uniform color hide that will resist scuffs more than CXL or Veg Tan hides, and is used primarily when we want a product with relatively strict sizing such as a custom length watchband or a strap.
Predator leathers – Predator was originally developed for boots, is incredibly durable, and somewhat similar to chromexcel, except that it is a ‘drier’ waxy finish as opposed to the more glossy/eggshell wax appearance of CXL, and is lower stretch than CXL.
HF/Mustang/Waxed HF/Predator HF
HF leathers – the ‘front’ part of the horse hide is HF: HorseFront. It comes from the tannery as relatively light weight (thin) leather that is remarkably low stretch; comparing a hide in horse and cow in the same weight would show that the cow is almost unusably stretchy in the same light weight as horse. We use horse primarily for wallets to keep their shape without a lot of bulk. A similarly durable piece of cowhide would be way thicker leading to a bulky wallet.
Horsefront can be tanned in several different ways, and each way produces pluses and minuses:
Admittedly we’re sort of fibbing here; russet is a particular tannage of the ‘strip’ (sort of the waistline) part of the hide of a horse. We would be more correct in just calling it a strip, but that feels like it’s just confusing so we call them russet leathers. A true russet strip is more of a raw veg tan leather that is quite stiff and develops an excellent patina over time. Horween produces these leathers, but we opt for the strips that have then been retanned with Chromexcel oils/waxes to get a softer product with some great colors and available tannery-stamped patterns that are also very low stretch. Our main use for these is our Apple Watchbands, or custom length watchbands in general. The limiting factor with these is that the pieces are relatively small. That’s fine for use in a watchband, but larger products become more difficult to produce with russet/strips.
Suede leathers are produced when the top/outer layer of the hide is shaved off, resulting in a slightly ‘fuzzy’ leather. Suede can be made in some really excellent colors (a wider variation than is available in more full grain leathers, from our experience with horween leathers), but with the tradeoff that it is by nature more prone to stains and is not as resistant to stretch as a full grain hide would be. Horween produces some ‘straight’ suedes, and also some suedes that have a waxed finish, some that are waterproof, and even more variations. We use a limited number of suede leathers, particularly in watchbands and some clutch products. We usually say “you have to embrace the fact that suede is going to darken up with time as it inevitably gets dirty.” You can use suede protectant (we like 3M’s suede/nubuck spray) and a suede brush/eraser but it’s more work than a full grain hide.
While chromexcel is our PERSONAL favorite product that Horween produces, their premium leather is Cordovan. Cordovan is unique in that it’s the only type of leather that has grain in both directions, and only comes from horse and zebra hides in small quantities. Due to the rarity of appropriate hides (horween only uses domestic horse hides) and the extremely labor intensive production process, cordovan is a very expensive product. It is very low stretch in both directions (while even the lowest stretch cow hide is stretchier in one direction than the other due to the single grain in the hide), and is a very firm, high-gloss material. We use it for a very limited amount of products like custom watchbands and some wallets. It doesn’t like to be creased tightly and is a heavier weight than regular horsefront leather, so we tend not to use it for a majority of our products because Shawn tends to design things using folds to minimize stitching for a cleaner look.