In the Bind workshop, we’re testing and working on some new designs in Horween® Shell Cordovan leather. You may or may not have heard of the leather before, but it’s the original signature article from the world famous Horween® tannery of Chicago and its very very special stuff, pretty much as good as leather gets. We wanted to talk a little about Horween® Shell Cordovan and why we are so excited (seriously) to be adding it to our range.…..
There are a few places tanning Shell Cordovan around the world, but Horween® of Chicago is the 1905 original Shell Cordovan tannage and the one all others try to imitate as closely as they can. Having personally handled Shell Cordovan from Europe and Asia, I can honestly say that the tannage recipe perfected in the years leading up to 1905 by a Ukrainian immigrant Isidore Horween has not been bettered. Horween’s Shell Cordovan feels different to any other Shell Cordovan, it just feels better in the hands. It’s hard to describe, but it has a different feel of density, a different temper and even a different temperature on the fingers that you notice if you handle enough leather. Nobody who produces Shell Cordovan really produces bad Shell Cordovan to be fair, but Horween® aren’t about ‘not bad’ or decent, they make the best Shell Cordovan on the market and that’s all we’re interested in using.
Typically, anything made from genuine Horween® Shell Cordovan is charged at a significant premium. Shell Cordovan is many times the cost per square foot to source for our workshop than other standard leathers, but as with almost all things in life, you get what you pay for. While Horween® Shell Cordovan is expensive, the longevity and sheer luxury of items made with the leather actually offers a great value proposition. If you’re a ‘bigger picture’ type of person, the type of person who likes the idea of buying the best quality only once, instead of multiple cheaper options over time, then you are the type of person who will appreciate Horween® Shell Cordovan. Actually, if you are the type of person who simply likes fine things, you’ll appreciate Horween® Shell Cordovan.
History and Standards
History doesn’t mean much if standards aren’t maintained. As we’ve already mentioned, Isidore Horween set out to tan the best leather article he could when he perfected his Shell Cordovan tannage in 1905. That’s 112 years ago, but thankfully the Horween® tannery is still family owned and operated by Isadore’s descendants, the fourth and fifth generation of Horween tanners, Arnold ‘Skip’ Horween and son Nick Horween. The family still protects the secret of the original Shell Cordovan tannage recipe and they still abide by it, tanning Shell Cordovan in the same way, in the same Chicago tannery as it always has been. Horween® Shell Cordovan represents over a century of some of the best provenance in the entire leather industry so it fits perfectly into what we strive to achieve under the Bind Ethos
Aside from quality and labour, part of the premium cost behind Shell Cordovan is due to the supply. Horween® produce as much Shell Cordovan as they can with the supply chain they can access. Cordovan is equine leather cut in ‘shells’ from the posterior of the animal, with each hide that passes initial quality control producing only two shells of varying size from 1.5sq.ft² - 2.5sq.ft², with the other cuts of the hide, the strip and horse fronts, being set aside for a different tannage. Occasionally large shells of around 3sq.ft² can be had but this isn’t typical and it's why Shell Cordovan is normally restricted to small leather goods like wallets, watch straps and shoes. Its why you will never see a commercially available Shell Cordovan belt from a single piece for example. To put Shell Cordovan’s small yield per skin in perspective, a decent size whole cowhide will yield an average 40-60sq.ft². This low Shell Cordovan yield is also compounded by the fact that, while cowhide is generally freely available to tanneries, horsehide, on the other hand, is comparatively harder to get hold of. So, we have a situation of rarer skins producing very small cuts of Shell Cordovan. There’s just less of it around and demand from workshops like our own outstrips supply.
Shell Cordovan has some pretty incredible properties that set it apart from just about any other leather available to artisans. In a world where leather can be tanned in a day, Shell Cordovan has a six-month tannage of hot stuffing with oils and waxes, then specialist handwork of the Horween® curriers whose job it is to shave, finish and glaze, resulting in leather that has incredible levels of aesthetic beauty and durability. The trick up Horween’s sleeve is that their Shell Cordovan does not break and ‘pebble up’ when it is creased, the layers of the leather simply do not delaminate from each other. Horween® Shell Cordovan has long been used for high-end shoes for this very reason. Because the leather doesn’t break and pebble where the toe creases, you can simply maintain your footwear with creaming and polishing and Shell Cordovan shoes will not just last a lifetime, but will always look near new. This is the best of both worlds, it’s leather that just looks better with time and maintains structural quality.
We all want the best of things for ourselves and the people we know, life’s little treats, and it’s so nice that there are places like the Horween® tannery that make the pursuit possible. Hats off to Isidore.
So, there is a brief look into why Horween® Shell Cordovan is special. It really is incredible leather that is worth the premium for those that covet the best of things. Our Horween® Shell Cordovan leather products will be available in the coming months and you can stay informed with our newsletter signup in the footer of the page or on social media. In the meantime, if you’re lusting for some Horween® quality, check out our Horween® Derby Rally Fold Wallets. While Horween’s Derby tannage is a totally different beast to Shell Cordovan, they nontheless share the same tanning extracts and the Horween® standards of quality.