Sweet smell of success
Don’t be afraid to use your olfactory senses, says Melani. The smell of leather – rich, earthy, buttery – is surely up there with freshly ground coffee or new books as an everyday pleasure. And this is a key component in how to determine if what you’re perusing is legitimate, quality leather. ‘Low-quality leather is usually made using low-quality tanning processes, and these tanning processes can leave an unpleasant smell on the skin. If it doesn’t smell right – in that it doesn’t have that familiar smell we’re used to – then the chances are it’s been badly produced,’ Melani explains.
Surprisingly, one of the key factors in selecting leather lies not in the leather itself but in the additional components that surround it. The hardware on a piece – be it a zip, a buckle, a chain strap – offers insightful clues as to how well the leather has been made. ‘This is a very important element,’ Melani says. ‘Faults in something like a jacket or a bag are most likely to happen in the hardware that’s part of it. Italian hardware – brass – is what a shopper should be looking for. Often cheap retailers will use a kind of hardware called zama as a low-cost alternative, which is a great deal lighter and far less durable than brass. You can tell whether it’s brass or not from the weight and consistency of the colour and shade of the plating; if it’s heavy and uniform in colour, it’s most likely brass. Brass is almost indestructible, while zama breaks easily. Why is this so important? Because if cheap hardware has been used, then the likelihood is that the overall product is cheap and badly made.’
A stitch in time
Investigate the small details on a piece of leather. The stitching will act as a clue as to how much craftsmanship and work has gone into it, Melani explains. And if it falls below par, it usually indicates that the leather will be lacking. ‘Look for stitches that are regular, uniform in spacing and consistency and in a straight line. Concentrate on the joins. If the joins are seamless and well done, then it’s likely to be a piece that’s had someone take time over it to get it right.’ If stitches or joins overlap or are not in a straight line, then it’s indicative of a slapdash approach to craftsmanship that should prompt warning signs.
Part of the appeal in investing in a beautiful leather bomber jacket or go-anywhere bag is the knowledge that it will look even better as it ages. Melani has some pointers as to which kinds of leather wear better than others. ‘Some skins look better as they age, some don’t last as long or keep a strong shape. Skins such as cowhide work well for this, along with covered (where the skin is covered in colour so you don’t see so much detail) and uncovered (where the detail of the hide, all the grainy flecks and blemishes that’s normal on skin, is visible). Ostrich and crocodile, as very expensive skins, also fall under this category. On the other hand, cavellino or horse leather, which tends to be soft and have a furry feel on the surface, will lose its features in one or two years.’
There are few things more tedious than falling victim to a bag that rubs its colour over that freshly pressed shirt or light-shaded blazer of yours. As Melani points out, bad-quality dying processes can release pigment from a piece of leather and discolour everything with which it comes into contact. The test for this is simple; a quick rub on a piece of leather with a white cotton handkerchief will quickly indicate whether it’s a quality piece.