A Trip to La Perla Azzurra: Veg Tanned V. Chrome Tanned

A good way to think of leather is as one huge canvas which can be worked with to create different outcomes.  A hide is a hide is a hide!  The benefits between veg tanned leather and chrome tanned leather is the battle of the century and is certainly one that I have wrestled with since becoming a maker of handbags. 

Let’s briefly talk about the differences between the two leathers.  Chrome tanned is used about 80% of the time and is primarily used for upholstery, garments and some handbags.  One of the beauties of chrome tanning is the rich colors one can get, its suppleness, thinness and often times its buttery feel.   The supposed draw back to chrome tanning is that chromium salts (chemicals) are used in the process.  But because of this, it takes fewer days to tan.  Veg tanned hides are often thought to be superior because of the natural dying process which uses tannins, but keep in mind that once it is dyed, it loses that definition of ‘pure and natural’.   Some characteristics of veg tan hides is that it can be stamped, carved and molded.  The most intriguing and appealing characteristic of veg tan to me is that over time, it acquires a beautiful patina which gives each bag a unique character.  I think of a veg tanned bag telling a story of its experiences and travels. 

Having good sources of beautiful veg tanned hides as well as chrome tanned hides has always been a goal of mine.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, sourcing quality leathers has been a real hurdle for me, especially in the isolation of Sun Valley!  But having been fortunate enough to have visited a leather show in NYC this past summer, I feel that I have found a veg tan supplier for CKD as well as new and different chrome tan sources.  

When our family was recently abroad for the holiday’s I was fortunate enough to get to visit our new source of veg tanned hides, Conceria La Perla Azzurra in Tuscany.  After much back and forth with Andrea, the representative I met in NY, we set a date for a visit.  It was fascinating and a treat to learn about the tanning process as well as see the plant in full operation.  I learned about and got to see the following steps in the tanning process.  The tannery receives hides from France that have been pre-tanned so they are in “blank canvas” form.  The hides are dyed in huge drums suspended in air.  Think of wine barrels on steroids.  They are then dried and staked.  Once dried the leather is very stiff so they stake with a machine in order to soften it.  Think of tiny pinwheels pricking the leather.  Now it is ready for finishing where the hides are sprayed with oils and more dye, to ensure depth and richness of color, as well as protectant.   Overall, the dying process, whether veg or chrome tanned is complex and time consuming! 

I am pleased to share with you that, in addition to many chrome tan hides, CK now has a small selection of veg tanned leathers which I know you will love!

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