Cordovan Week – Production

Posted by: on Jun 27, 2011 | 4 Comments

Cordovan is one of those fanatic-inspiring phenomena.  When talking about it, words like “love” and “obsessed” are run-of-the-mill.  But, even with all the ink spilled (or pixels in many cases), I’m yet to find a single source that covers all the cordovan basics.  Here’s my attempt at solving the problem – Cordovan Week on Simply Refined. Today I’ll cover the production of the leather, Wednesday will be about caring for your cordovan shoes, and Friday you’ll get a gallery in collaboration with the fine folks at Leffot displaying all the amazing colors in which cordovan is produced.

Production

To briefly put details aside, “Shell Cordovan” is a type of leather taken from the hindquarters of a horse.  The shells themselves are two oval-shaped patches on the rump, and it’s their super-tight grain and amazing toughness that makes them a perfect shoe leather.  Cordovan is actually a perversion of Cordoba, the town in Spain in which the leather is thought to have been originally produced.

Even if thing’s started in Spain, the epicenter of cordovan footwear is now the American Midwest.  The Horween Leather Company produces most of the world’s cordovan right in the heart of Chicago, just as they’ve been doing since 1905.  I have in fact never seen a cordovan shoe made of leather from any other source, although I’m told they do exist.

You only get enough hide from a single horse to produce one or two pairs of shoes at best.  On top of the scarcity of material, it takes Horween over six months to vegetable tan a hide, shave it down to just the shell, and finally apply a glaze to give it the gloss finish.  The resulting leather is rich in oils, has a smooth, waxy surface, and is much more durable than typical calf leather.

Obviously this leather is far more expensive than that typical chrome-tanned calf, both to produce and for the consumer.  A simple poke around Horween’s website quickly reveals that they know they’re not making a leather for everyone but rather a highly prized rarity for those that want something special.  They know they could do it cheaper, but the resulting compromise in quality would be strictly unacceptable.  Horween’s Blog isn’t updated often, but when it is there is almost always great detailed information about leather and leather production.  I recommending keeping tabs.

I’ve posted this video from them before, but just in case you missed it:

Next Step: Caring for Cordovan

Thank you to Horween Leather Company for the Images

4 Comments

  1. Joe Franceski
    June 27, 2011

    I love cordovan shoes but they are high maintenance. They lose their shine very quickly and must be kept in precisely sized shoe trees as they develop deep creases over time, even if well preserved.

    Reply
    • Stephen
      June 27, 2011

      Very true. Wednesday’s post will be dedicated to the ritual of maintaining cordovan, and yes it can be a hassle. I personally find shoe care to be a calming, cathartic activity, but for those who find it tedious cordovan might not be the right choice.

      Reply
  2. Gentleman's Gazette
    June 29, 2011

    Great idea for a series!

    Reply
  3. Matthew Abbott
    April 24, 2012

    I’ve heard there is a tannery in England that do cordovan. Joseph Clayton & Sons ltd in Chesterfield Derbyshire.

    Reply

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