Horween Shell Cordovan – the Hardest Form of Leather to Tan

Horween Shell Cordovan – the Hardest Form of Leather to Tan
April 27, 2018 Sarah Brown
In Leather
Horween Shell Cordovan

The kind of leather that we use for any kind of project matters a great deal. Amongst all the arguments about style, shape, strength and simplicity we often undervalue and underrate the unique power of the leather used. Well, one of the most popular forms of leather that you can find is a classical, uniquely designed formed of leather. As ever, the more outstanding and unique something is, the more likely it is to tick the right boxes. We always like things to feel like they are our own, and a more unique form of leather really makes that possible. For example, a very popular form of leather is Horween shell cordovan. Why?

The Same Old Tricks

For some, it’s quite a mysterious form of leather; totally different to what you might expect. The rarity of shell cordovan leather in the modern industry helps to make it stand out a good touch. Add in the fact that it carries that rich full-grain look, too, and it’s easy to see why so many people love this particular style of leather.

Read also: Know Your Leather

For others, though, it’s who does the leather in the first place. For example, the legendary Horween Tannery takes on its own Horween shell cordovan style. It’s a rich and remarkable firm with a history that lasts beyond a century. In that time, they’ve maintained the age-old family secrets of hard work, never compromising on quality and always taking every product purchase as seriously as their first. The end result? A fantastic form of shell cordovan leather that truly stands out on its own.

Horween Shell Cordovan leather

Still under the tutelage of Nick Horween, the great grandson of the founder, Skip Horween, this is a company that really makes the most of its reputation. Their outstanding desire to keep developing leathers like shell cordovan in a bid to keep that famous reputation intact.

Read also: Horween Leather Company

In a world where we frequently eschew artisanship to carry out a more mass-produced style, Horween is a breath of fresh air. With their shell cordovan leather under production since 1905, they still use the same kind of loving passion and close-cut techniques to ensure it’s just right.

Originally used in razor strops to help hone a straight razor, they’ve kept that same attention to detail over the years. There’s more fat and oil content in the leather today, though, making sure that it maintains a suppler style.

Care and Charisma

Another major part of the Horween leather is the attention to detail in development. For example, when the disposable razor came on the scene, it was Isidore Horween who made the decision to add that supple style. Overnight, it went from being a lacking-in-demand leather used for outdated razor strops to one of the most durable forms of leather on the market.

So, this is more than just a new recipe or something that’s been tried out in the last few years. Much like a classic cooking recipe, the foundations that make the quality of Horween shell cordovan leather remain well intact.

Indeed, the reference to cooking is an easy one way to apply here; Horween themselves say that part of the process is akin to cooking itself. When they use that food-grade fat on the product, the process is quite similar to cooking. Using a process known as hot stuffing, a practice no longer quite so prominent in the industry today, they re-introduce fats and oils to the leather. This helps to nourish each of those little fibers ensuring that the leather is as charismatic as possible.

Shell Cordovan leather

They also use a smart technique on the leather that is used to help keep that look, feel and smell intact. They use some wooden drums to steam-heat, then add in some re-tanned or veg tanned leather, and throw in a mix of grease, waxes and oils all part of the Horween propriety mix. When they do this, that shell cordovan goes through a process that allows for a far more resplendent finish.

This helps to impart a sense of water resistance to the leather, as well as making sure that it retains that richness in scent, touch and toughness. Horween certainly keeps that original desire for an artisan finish intact.

A Promise of Quality

Like any tannery that retains the old-school methods, Horween always looks to make sure that they have a versatile form of shell cordovan to provide. The aim is to create a rich and versatile form of leather that can be used for all manner of different projects along the way. For example, they make sure that they only source the best horsehide to begin with. Most of their products are sourced in Canada and France, where horses are still part of the food industry and thus enjoy a different kind of upbringing.

shell cordovan shoes

This quality is passed onto the leather itself, thanks to the horsehide quality thanks to this upbringing. While the footwear industry is a common user of Horween shell cordovan, it’s a versatile form of leather that finds itself being used in all manner of professional backgrounds. The fact that it’s such a challenging process to tan it and get it just right is part of the reason why it’s such as a well-loved form of leather.

In fact, Horween themselves believe that this is the hardest form of leather to tan. The benefits, though, are passed on to anyone who happens to use or wear shell cordovan. The limited amount of horsehide, though, means that the use of shell cordovan has come down quite a bit from the ‘good old days’ when it was in rich supply.

The long, challenging tanning process and the short supply means that this form of leather is a bit of a dying art. However, for Horween, the end result is always worth it; a durable, impressively versatile and unique piece of leather.

If you are looking to see just why shell cordovan leather is one of the most popular forms around, the time it takes to craft it to this level of perfection is the simplest explanation. With so much refinement and quality whilst keeping that natural finish and style, it’s easy to see why Horween shell cordovan is such a celebrated part of the industry.

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