7 May 2011

Shell Cordovan -the most non porous leather for shoes

Shell Cordovan  is named after the Spanish city Cordova where the Spanish Arabs introduced this fine leather. It is the leather that most sartorial men aspire to in their footwear due to its super glossy finish, durability and suppleness. It is also the most non porous leather known so great to keep out the rain.
However cordovan is not the normal calf leather but equine leather.
Brooks Brothers Cordovan Penny Loafers

The first part of the name 'shell' is used because this is where the leather is taken from on the horse. Cordovan is not just horse hide but is taken only from a specific area of the horse called the shell which is the thin layer of fine muscle under the skin at the butt of the horse. The skin is shaved away from the muscle layer, leaving smooth leather with no grain at all. The whole process of tanning of shell cordovan takes about 6 months and the shoes are expensive.
Now I have been assured by Horween in Chicago, one of the 2 tanneries who produce shell cordovan, that all of their hides are by-products of the food industry. Nick Horween emailed:  “All of the hides that we buy and tan are byproducts of the food industry.  Our horsehides come from France and Quebec where they still raise horse as we raise steers here in the US.”   The other tannery is Shinki-Hikaku Co.  But unfortunately their website is only in Japanese.

Crockett & Jones Ashdown Cordovan derby shoes
As this is an expensive and specialised leather Crockett and Jones’s  shell cordovans are only available and sold through their London shops: 25 Royal Exchange in the city; 69 Jermyn St and 20 Burlington Arcade in the West End. Their Ashdown Gibson shoe comes in the rich burgundy colour the shell cordovan is known for. Price £450

And it is this rich burgundy that some cheaper leather shoes are described as Cordovan – they will be referring to the colour only and not the actual leather.

Brooks Brothers shop is on 132-134 Regent Street

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