Why The Buzz About Shell Cordovan?
You may first have learned the word “cordovan” as a curious kid looking through your father’s collection of shoe polishes or while browsing the selections of polish hue’s online or in the store. Cordovan can be a color chosen for any leather goods but that is only half the story.
A ruddy brown in the polish tin, cordovan is more properly a unique leather care product color but it also stands for one of the finest and rarest leathers in the world. Shell cordovan is a material handcrafted from a very particular portion of a horsehide, prized for its durability and lustrous finish. In use it can be the familiar burgundy, black or shades of brown; its color range is limited.
First prepared by Moors who lived in Cordoba in the Andalusia area of Spain, today’s cordovan is created in much the same way as was done centuries ago. The name “cordovan” indeed comes from the name Cordovan, the “v” sound standing in for the ‘b.”
To begin making shell cordovan, skilled artisans assess horse hides and cut the “shell” area from the rest of the hide at right angles to spinal area. The shell is actually the two oval areas that comprised the rump of the animal. Once the general shell area is cut from the rest of the hide the magic begins.
According to the experts at Horween Leathers in Chicago, Illinois, USA, properly preparing shell cordovan requires many steps and about six months from its start as a hide until it leaves to be fashioned into luxury shoes. This in in contrast to other fine leathers such as calfskin which take only a fraction of the amount of time to be readied for use in leather goods.
Once cut the hides are split, tanned, dried, hot stuffed (milled and pounded) with emollients, and polished to a glass-like finish. Seasoned shell cordovan workers trim the hide down over the months so that when the finished pieces of horsehide are ready for the cobbler only the precise “shell” area is left.
Shell cordovan is simply considered the best leather for footwear available. The pores of this very specific area of the horsehide are so dense and fine that the leather is naturally water resistant and almost impervious to damage. A lifetime investment, one pair of shoes requires the two sides of the rump, one shoe per “shell.”
If properly cared for with products made specifically for this specialty leather a pair of cordovan shoes or boots will outlive their owner, requiring perhaps resoling and heel replacement, but looking more and more handsome over the decades, the naturally prepared leather achieving a one-of-a-kind patina as it is worn and enjoyed.
No Creasing or Scuffing
Unlike other leathers that wrinkle and crease shell cordovan does not show wear where the leather bends. A slight rolling may develop, but creasing and cracking are unheard of and any scratching can be rubbed out with a finger. Usually sporting an almost mirror like shine without polishing, some shell cordovan has a more matte surface.
Rare, Expensive But Worth It
Dependent on a sometimes roller-coaster horsehide market, shell cordovan footwear undeniably is a serious investment. Savvy consumers recognize the long term worth of this significant material when used for shoes and boots intended to be worn for years.