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Crockett & Jones

Material World: Exploring Exotic Leathers

Shell Cordovan, Lizard, Crocodile and Shark. We use the lot at Crockett & Jones. Here’s what makes these distinctive materials special.

Material World: Exploring Exotic Leathers

So far in this series we’ve got under the skin of smooth calf, grain calf and fine suedes and now we come to the final piece of the footwear puzzle: Exotic leathers and Shell Cordovan.

Next to our aniline dyed full-grain calf and suedes, the next most common material we use is Horween’s Shell Cordovan. Unlike conventional leather, Cordovan is an equine leather, made from horsehide or, more specifically, the fibrous ‘shell’ that sits beneath the surface hide of a horse’s hind quarters.

All the Cordovan we use is the genuine article, sourced from the Horween Leather Company, a Chicago based tannery that is famous for Cordovan, founded in 1905. Its attention to quality is second to none. Horween’s process to produce Cordovan is painstaking; a single shell is tanned, shaved, smoothed and dyed by hand, and then treated with vegetable oils over the course of several weeks and carefully polished before it leaves the tannery – an intensive process taking six months or more.

Unlike calf, because Shell Cordovan comes from an internal membrane, it’s completely smooth, without a grain. This gives Cordovan shoes their high-shine and luxurious finish, which suits rich dark browns or whisky colours (see our Harvard loafers or Harlech boots), or the classic burgundy, known as Number 8, as per our Cavendish tassel loafers. It also behaves a little differently. It’s stiffer, and while it does become incredibly supple and mould to the wearer’s feet over time, it does takes longer to break in. We expect a pair of our Cordovan shoes – well cared for and resoled when required – to last for decades. In fact it’s so strong a material, it was originally developed to make shaving strops, and some point in the early 1900s some bright spark had the idea to make shoes with it.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Cavalry Calf is also an equine leather, thanks to the allusion in its name, but that’s not the case. Rather, it’s a corrected calf’s leather – usually from a more mature animal – the surface of which is buffed to remove imperfections and treated or ‘impregnated’ (that’s a technical term) to ensure it has a smooth, Cordovan-like finish… We don’t use much corrected material, but it comes into its own for robust, long-lasting loafers or for the more fashion forward styles like Lanark from last years 'The Black Editions'.

Finally, for made-to-order and bespoke shoes, we offer a selection of precious exotic skins. Customers can choose from crocodile, lizard, deer and even shark leather where available. We only keep limited stocks of these due to their rarity and expense. All of these exotic materials are ethically sourced from the finest tanneries. Each exotic skin has its own characteristics; crocodile is exceptionally firm and long-lasting, while lizard is a little more delicate but makes for wonderful details on dress shoes. Of course, the greatest challenge with making in these materials is matching the scales across different parts of each shoe. For this reason, it takes two crocodile skins to make one pair of shoes…and a trained eye to handle such expensive skins!

As with all our leathers, our Head Leather Buyer, Steve, is fanatical about the quality (and consistency) of our exotic skin shoes. ‘We’re very consistent with who we deal with,’ he says.

‘We’re into long term relationships and offer long term contracts to our suppliers. We’ll order leather that’s to be used in six months or even a year’s time. This gives our partner tanneries the time to source the very best skins they can, helps with their cash flow and results in a constant quality of supply.’

Maintaining quality underpins everything we do at Crockett & Jones. Whether crocodile or calf’s leather, you need the best raw materials to make the fine shoes. This has been Jonathan Jones’ (Managing Director and 4th generation Jones) mantra ever since he took the business on in the late 1970s. In a time where manufacturing in the UK is more costly than ever, it still rings true for us today. Materials underpin the difference between making a loss or a profit at the end of the year… make or break, materials are king and in our case, that’s the finest leathers in the world.

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