Calf skin for shoes

Calf skin for shoes

Calf skin is the most popular material for high quality shoes and boots. Usually, this type of leather is a win-win choice: it is not too expensive, elastic, nice to the touch and looks traditionally. However, the quality and characteristics of calf skin vary significantly, and therefore we decided to write a separate large article on what calf skin can be, how it is processed, and which tanneries produce it.

Types of calf skin

Calf skin can be classified in several ways. The first of these is the age of the calf. The skin of very young calves is distinguished with tenderness and softness, it is very flexible, but at the same time it is prone to the rapid accumulation of small wrinkles and folds, that is why not all customers like it. The other extreme is the skin of calves that are already pretty grown up. It may be not very flexible and harsh, prone to pronounced creases. This leather is usually used for making relatively inexpensive shoes. In addition, conditions for keeping calves can also influence the degree of flexibility, softness and elasticity of the leather. The best is considered to be the leather received from calves, who lived a significant part of their lives in open pastures, in a calm and well-fed environment.

The next variant of the classification of calfskin is according to the layer of the skin from which it is obtained. The full-grain leather is the most valued, it is leather from the very top layer of the skin, not subjected to adjustment and grinding. It preserves pores, is breathable, looks beautiful, serves for a long time, is nice to the touch and comfortable to wear. In general, this is the best subsort of calf skin, and it has only one disadvantage: its price.

Other subsorts of calf skin are top-grain, split and corrected-grain. Top-grain leather is produced from the top layer of the skin, but, generally, it undergoes significant adjustment and grinding. If on full-grain there are parts of skins without strong defects, then top-grain are, usually, areas with defects that require grinding.

Split is the bottom layer of the skin, which is valued less than the top. Either suede (not its best option, but the most common) or leather like corrected-grain are made of it. In fact, corrected-grain can be also made of top-grain, but the split, again, is usually less valued.

In the process of adjustment, an artificial “grain” or some print (for example, similar to crocodile or snake leather) is usually applied to polished skin. Then the skin is treated with pigmented dyes, and often a synthetic polymer coating is also added. In the best cases, however, aniline dyes are used to dye top-grain leather. More details about them you can find below, after the section on tanning.

Methods of calf skin tanning

There are two main methods of tanning: chrome (using chromium salts) and vegetable (using oak leaves and bark, as well as other plants). Sometimes they are combined, but it happens rarely. Chrome tanning is significantly faster, but this does not mean that chrome leather is worse. On the contrary, this leather is usually used for making the top of classic shoes, even very expensive and high quality ones. And the vegetable tanned leather is often used for making insoles, lining and sole.

The point is that chrome leather is more resistant to external influences, including water, dirt, rain. On the other hand, vegetable tanned leather is hygroscopic and absorbs moisture wept by the feet better. This is why it is used for lining and insoles.

Methods of calf skin dyeing

Another important point is dyeing. The best calf skin is aniline: it is dyed with penetrating (aniline) dyes that do not block the pores of the skin and provide a deep natural color and also allow it to acquire a very expressive patina over time (black leather is an exception, patina does not appear on it).

Another option is semi-aniline leather. It is also dyed with aniline dyes, but after that a protective coating and / or a thin layer of pigment-based dyes are applied to it. This leather is more resistant to external influences and retains its original look longer. However, such a patina, as on aniline leather, is unlikely to appear on it. In addition, the tactile sensations here will be slightly different, and the breathability is worse than that of aniline leather.

Finally, the third subsort of calf skin by color is pigmented. It is covered with a layer of dyes that provide level and stable dyeing, but worsen the leather breathability (and an additional polymer coating can reduce it to zero). The appearance of pigmented leather is usually not as noble as that of aniline leather, and there will be no patina on it. Usually, connoisseurs prefer to avoid this subsort of calf skin. Its only advantage is a relatively low price; however, it does not mean that shoes made of such leather cannot cost a lot of money. Quite the opposite!

Main manufacturers of calf skin

Among the most famous suppliers of calf skin it is worth to note the French tanneries Annonay and du Puy, the German tannery Weinheimer Leder, the Italian Ilcea. Less known manufacturers also deserve attention: for example, Roux and Haas from France, as well as Bonaudo, Masini, Zonta and La Nuova Antilope from Italy.

Advantages and disadvantages of calf skin

It was already mentioned above that calf skin is good for its moderate cost. Other things being equal, shoes made of such leather will be cheaper than shoes made of cordovan, crocodile or ostrich leather. At the same time, of course, calf skin is more expensive than bovine and cow leather, so shoes of the ultra-budget segment are not made of it.

Important advantages of good calf skin include flexibility, elasticity, breathability, wear-resistance and durability.

Unfortunately, poor calf skin may not have these advantages, for example, during processing, breathability is sometimes greatly reduced, and elasticity and flexibility are worsened. However, in the case of careful shoe brands, Carmina, Yanko, Berwick, Carlos Santos, Cheaney, Crockett & Jones, Tricker's and some others, the quality of calf skin is at a decent level.

In the end, it should be noted that some men find calf skin too dull in appearance. However, as it was already said, a variety of prints can be applied on it, not to mention the dyeing in almost any color. Besides, the elegance of classic shoes is given by the silhouette, high-quality finishing and competently calibrated proportions, and not at all a strange or unusual texture like the one that is typical of ostrich or lizard leather.

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