Cordovan leather, commonly known as "Shell Cordovan," is a distinct leather type obtained from the fibrous flat muscle (or "shell") located under the skin of a horse's hindquarters.
Cordovan leather is known for its tight grain, smooth finish, and rich, glossy appearance. The process to produce Cordovan leather is labor-intensive and requires specialized skills, which is why it's considered one of the most luxurious and expensive leathers. It's not just a hue but a distinct leather, sourced from a specific section of a horsehide. The uniquely shaped shells undergo a meticulous process that spans at least half a year. They are immersed in mild vegetable solutions, hot stuffed, and then stretched on glass frames to dry. Expert artisans hand-curry and shave each shell to reveal its essence. The dyes are manually applied for a deep, aniline finish. To conclude, the shells are hand-burnished to attain their signature glossy texture and appearance, cherished by master craftsmen.
While "Shell Cordovan" is the most recognized type of Cordovan leather, there aren't "sub-types" in the same way that there are for top-grain leather. However, there are variations based on:
Color of Cordovan leather
Cordovan leather is traditionally an oxblood or burgundy color, but it can be dyed in various shades, including black, brown, green, and more.
Finish of Cordovan leather
While the traditional Shell Cordovan has a very glossy finish, some variations might have a matte finish or even a slightly pebbled texture.
Source of Cordovan leather
The highest quality Shell Cordovan traditionally comes from specific tanneries with a long history of producing it, such as the Horween Leather Company in Chicago. However, other tanneries around the world also produce Cordovan leather, leading to slight variations in texture, finish, and quality.
Online stores to buy Cordovan learther for shoes
It's important to remember that authentic Shell Cordovan can only be found on horsehide's hindquarters. Some goods that are not actually produced from the horsehide shell may be referred to as "Cordovan" based on their color or finish. When buying Cordovan leather products, always verify the manufacturer and authenticity.
If you are just beginning to learn about different materials for shoemaking, I recommend that you learn more about the shoemaking craft itself so that you are aware of your options for making shoes.