handbag leather

If you are like most women, you probably know the basics of leathers and not the nitty-gritty details. What we’re presenting here is the 101 of the different types of leathers commonly used in designer bags and handbags and which leather requires little to no care to exotics, which require a great deal of care and maintenance.

Hope this helps those who are searching for the perfect leather bag.

Types of Leathers

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Anatomy of Leather Layers.

Leather comes to the general market most commonly in the four types below:


This leather’s surface has not been altered by buffing and sanding to correct for imperfections in the hide. This is highest quality leather. Full-grain leather wears and ages well by developing a patina. (Patina is the natural darkening of the untreated leather as it is used.)


This is the second highest quality leather and commonly used in high-end designer products. The leather has been spilt layer separated away which makes it thinner and workable than the full-grain leather. The surface is treated by sanding and coating. This leather does not patina with age and if the finished coating is intact can provide stain-resistance. This is less expensive than the full-grain leather.


This refers to any leather where the surface has an artificial grain applied. The imperfections on the hide are sanded off and the new surface embossed with a new grain and dyes and pigments can be added for the look.


This leather is created by separating the top-grain from the leather leaving the unfinished fibrous leather behind. Depending on the thickness of the leather, multiple splits can be done. The split leather is resurfaced and artificial layer applied. Splits are commonly used to make suede. Suedes are fuzzy on both sided.

Other Leather Types:

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Buckskin Leather


This leather is produced by using fats during the tanning process then smoked producing a very soft and leather bug repellent leather.

Chanel Handbag in Patent Leather.

Patent Leather

Leather that has a high gloss sheen finish made with a plastic and resin finish.This finish makes the leather impervious to water and only needs to be wiped off. With wear and tear leaving scratches, will eventually lose its polished sheen.

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Shoes Made from Nubuck Leather.


Cowhide top-grain leather that has been surface treated to create a nappy yet velvety surface. It his resistant to wear. Similar to suede, the difference being it is created from the outer side of the leather therefore more durable. Nubuck, like suede, scratches easily and is more expensive than suede.

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Shoe Made from Napa Leather.

Napa Leather

Yes from Napa, California, like wine as you might be familiar with. It refers to the chrome-tanning process which produces a soft and supple leather. Napa leather is usually used for wallets and other personal leather goods.

Know Your Animals

Most likely the leather bag you are carrying is made of cowhide. Cowhide comprises the majority of leathers made, however leather can be made from any animal skin. I’m sure you’ll know what animal your leather handbag is made from as the more exotic animals are usually more expensive. Typically exotic leathers are considered to be ostrich, crocodile, alligator, python and even stingray!

Here are some exotic leathers:

Moccasins made from Deerskin Leather.


Made from deer hide the leather is water resistant and tough.

Chanel Handbag in Lambskin Leather.


Use for designer clothing as they are soft and supple agains the skin and not as durable as full-grain leather. Is expensive but not as costly as full-grain leather. Most famously the Chanel flap bag and Balenciaga moto bags are made from lambskin.

Louis Vuitton Handbag in Alligator Leather.


The difference between alligator and crocodile is subtle, but when examined closely, alligator scales are free from the pits present in genuine croc. Usually the scales are smaller than the crocodile scales.

Hermes Birkin in Himalayan Crocodile.


Very exotic and extremely expensive, this leather is made from the belly of the crocodile. The heavy price tag comes with high maintenance. Ironically, this leather is prone to water damage and need expert care for maintenance.

The holy grail of all Hermes Birkins is the Himalayan Crocodile. It’s given its name due to the white color of the crocodile leather reminiscent of the Himalayan mountains, not from the origin of the crocodile. The white color is achieved through a painstakingly long process that requires more work for whiter/lighter color. Exclusivity of the leather and difficulty in processing all contribute to the high cost.

Fendi Bag in Ostrich Leather.


This leather is distinctive for its pattern of bumps from the quill follicles. The high cost is due to the exotic nature of the leather, the small amount of area per animal available, as well as the long processing required to make the leather.

Gucci Bag in Python Leather – Up Close.


Python is a snake and this leather has the distinctive snake patterns of the reptile. It is illegal in California to sell anything python due animal cruelty in procuring the animal skin.

Special Designer Leather

Designer houses such as Gucci and Prada have come up with their own patented type of leather finishing.

Chanel Caviar is calfskin with small grains, known for its durability and resistance from normal wear and tears.

Prada Saffiano is an embossing process that makes the leather water and scratch resistant while creating a thatched pattern appearance. Very similar to the Hermes Togo leather which has a grainy appearance and is also scratch resistant.

Leather Maintenance

Check out our post on How to Condition your Leather. Also check out How to Store your Handbag.

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