One of the most satisfying aspects of shoe design is the selection of materials to be used. With leathers and exotic skins there is a vast choice of textures and colours to achieve the perfect design for my clients. In this article I will talk about some of the leathers that I use most regularly, explaining what makes them particularly suitable for shoe making. I am passionate about leathers and I make a point of seeking out and ordering samples of all types leather and exotic skins to understand which are best suited to shoe making.
Often I use lamb leather sourced form either UK or France. Lamb skin for shoe making must be perfect on the front and must be smooth and as even as possible on the rear. I judge the quality of the skin by its rear as any imperfections will soon show themselves once the skin is stretched. I really like using lamb skin because it is soft and elegant, ideal for ladies shoes giving a sophisticated, refined look that many of my clients seek.
One of my favourite skins is ostrich, sourced from UK and South Africa. I can have ostrich tanned in any colour my clients desire which can be a great advantage. A client can choose literally any colour they like and then be the only person with shoes that shade. Ostrich is gorgeous, soft and extremely tough; perfectly suited for shoes. The skins are large so more than one pair of shoes can be made from one skin or alternatively a matching handbag or a belt.
Snakes and reptiles
Other leathers I often use are snake and lizard. I love working with snake as it adds a luxurious feel to the shoes. The skins are very thin but strong enough for shoes. The great advantage is that they are very easy to keep clean. Using snake can introduce some design challenges as the skin is long and thin. Python is often preferred because it is wider so removing most design obstacles. Lizard is a really beautiful skin, it is quite stiff and a little harder to work with but nevertheless ideal for shoes and is very easy to look after.
I recently worked with stingray. This is certainly one of the most unusual and very rarely used skins for shoes. It looks amazing, like a plate of little pearls and really plays beautifully in the light. I must admit though, it is the hardest skin to work with. I have to thin the skin by hand and every time I work with stingray I end up with blisters on my fingers but it is well worth it for the final effect. I would say that it is an indestructible skin and will last forever.
The other interesting skin I worked with is eel. The skin is produced by stitching together many narrow skins forming a long plate. It really looks amazing and I am able to source some fantastic colours. The skin is unbelievably thin like paper and the first time I handled it I did not think that it would be suitable for shoes. Once I started working with it I realised how strong it is and use it now with confidence.
I have also worked with salmon skin which I found really lovely to work with. It is quite thick in comparison to eel and perfect for shoes. It lasts for a long time and looks wonderful too.
I am also very particular about the leather I use to line my shoes. I was so exited when I found a tannery in the UK that produces high quality calf shoe lining. Their leather is fantastic and I love working with it, ideal for shoe lining in every way.
All of the leathers I use are sourced ethically and all of the exotic skins are under licence from CITES.
I love challenges and learning about new materials so if you know of any unusual leathers please share your experience with me.