Myths about leather
There are two terms often used with “poetic licence” which contributes to create confusion in the leather world.
These two terms are aniline and full grain.
In the following paragraph we will try to debunk these false myths.
Aniline is an organic compound, also called phenylamine or aminobenzene, has a formula of C6H5NH2. It is obtained from nitrobenzene and also with other processes, and it is widely used, among others scope, for paint manufacturing.
What does aniline means? Unfortunately there’s a lot of confusion between its true and its practical meaning.
Usually we can hear or read of “aniline dyed leather”. This is technically true but gives a little information since almost all leather production is carried out with aniline.
So when does aniline has to be used when referring to leather?
It’s common sense to use the word aniline to indicate the grade of finishing or covering of the hides, whithin these 3 categories:
- Pure aniline or aniline leather: these are hides without superficial finishing, or a completely transparent one, where it’s clearly visible the underlying dyeing.
- Semianiline leather: these hides have a light, half-covering finishing, where the underlying dyeing is slightly visible.
- Pigmented: these hides has a completely covering finishing, which hides completely the underlying dyeing. Usually the finishing pigment isn’t too different than the dyeing, but one could apply a black finishing on a white dyeing and vice-versa.
These three categories are in order of quality, from a beauty and a technical point of view.
The full grain of the skin is the typical small hole left by the hair, after its removal in the liming, in the outside layer of the epidermis.
If this layer is intact, we can call it “full grain”; if it has been removed by working processes, we cannot refer to full grain, but “sanded”. In order not to use this word, a lot of expression has been created over time: “half grain”, “corrected grain”, “polished grain”, “touched grain”, etc.
All of these expression include the word grain, a part of the skin which has been removed: it would be more correct not to use it at all, simply using these two categories:
- Full grain leather
- Smeared leather
Also these categories are in decreasing order of quality.
Covering and grain categories can be freely combined on the final product, but it is wise to do it on a same quality level: anilines with full grain and pigmented with smeared ones.
This is what usually happens, given a few exceptions, such as nubuck.
Another false myth which has to be bunked is the italian word ecopelle, which can be translated ecoleather, and used to describe a polymer coated textile, aka faux leather. Thus nothing to do with an ecological product, neither with leather.
Nowadays ecopelle is a registered trademark owned by UNIC, the italian tannery association, which use can be licensed, paying the royalties, to produce leather with the requirements of UNI 11427 standard, which sets the parameters of the product and the environment requirements to be considered a reduced environmental impact one. Parameters already set by Italian and European laws way before UNIC...
Therefore to avoid confusions it is better to quickly forget the words ecopelle, ecoleather and other surrogates (regenerated leather, coupled split) which we do not even start talking about.