Heritage leathers are among the most coveted materials highly sought after by seasoned Hermès collectors. Specialist Jerry Chang elaborates on the definition, characteristics and categories of these classic materials
What are heritage leathers?
The use of premium materials has been at the core of Hermès’ collection since 1837, and it is now a tradition firmly rooted in the House’s DNA. Hermès adheres to the most stringent standard in the selection of hides, and attaches high importance to its signature heritage leathers.
Hermès heritage leathers naturally develops an exquisite patina over time, and with proper care, heritage leather products can become the increasingly sophisticated and elegant heirlooms. These materials gain their name due to their exceptional ability to stand the test of time, and they continue to attract true connoisseurs and collectors.
Characteristics of heritage leathers
Hermès only uses full-grain leather, which is the top layer of the hide. As it has not been embossed, the leather preserves its natural durability.
Only the finest natural animal hides processed with impeccable century-old craftsmanship can become the renowned Hermès heritage leathers. Their most distinctive characteristics are the natural patina developed over time, the luminous surface and toughness.
In the atelier, heritage leathers are coated with a layer of aniline to enhance the natural surface. As this technique will highlight the skin’s natural features, such as the veins, wrinkles and pores, and no imperfection can be hidden, heritage leathers stand out with their flawlessness. Therefore, Hermès does not compromise on the stringent standards of leather selection. With its incredibly delicate aniline finish, the leather will age beautifully over time and acquire unique personal marks, creating one-of-a-kind collectible pieces.
Types of heritage leathers
There are a wide array of heritage leathers, including some signature leathers used in the House’s leather goods for many years as well as new innovations developed in recent years. While Hermès has been staying at the pinnacle of leather crafting, it still upholds its commitment to innovation through exploring and developing new materials continuously.
Here are some common types of heritage leathers developed by Hermès over the years.
Since 1837, Hermès has been using Naturelle, a vegetable tanned cowhide known for its unique natural hues and luminosity. Rooted in the House’s saddle-making history, Naturelle plays a key role in Hermès’ leather goods. This firm, smooth and luminous leather with a slightly matte finish is sensitive to light. It will age beautifully over time without losing shape.
Making its debut in the early 1920s, the box calf is arguably the most iconic leather of Hermès. It’s named after the box tanning technique in the U.K. that gives the material a unique touch and look. The subdued colour highlights the sense of depth and dynamic vigour of the leather.
Box leather has a delicate fine-grained surface with a natural sheen. This smooth material is soft to touch and has a firm and refined texture that can maintain its shape. Apart from handbags, it is also used in belts for added strength and durability.
Barenia leather is named after the village of Barr in Alsace, France where it was originally tanned in the 1970s. This emblematic leather is generally called the saddle leather or, occasionally, the magic leather because any minor marks and scratches will disappear after rubbing thanks to its special treatment process in which the skin is soaked in a mix of oils. This material has a luxurious, waxy appearance. Frequently touched areas will darken in colour and become softer over time, developing a patina that enchants collectors.
Introduced in 2012, this heritage leather does not only have a name that sounds like “butter”, but also has a smooth and supple texture that evokes the creamy butter. Tanned with minerals, the leather has a fine-grained look and opulent, supple texture. It also develops a nice patina and becomes even softer over time. It is often chosen to elevate structured handbags with its warm and rich touch.
Introduced in 2007, this calfskin is named after tadelakto, a plaster used for bathrooms and walls in Morocco. This relatively young heritage leather marks Hermès’ relentless pursuit of innovation while staying true to its traditions.
Takelakt leather has a waxy appearance. It will display subtle colour change and gain a beautiful sheen over time without losing its firmness and irresistible velvety texture.