Hermès is known for, among other things, its use of fine leathers, and it offers more varieties than any other major bag brand on the planet. Figuring out what all the names mean, how those leathers differ and which one might be the best for you can be a daunting task for even those moderately well-versed in the ways of Hermès. For newbies, I'm sure it seems possible. We're here to help.
Below, we've catalogued as many of Hermès's current handbag leathers as we could find, complete with a close-up for each and notes on texture, weight and durability when available. Because Hermès likes to play things close to the vest, we might have missed something; if so, please let us know in the comments.
[Images via Heritage Auctions, which has a huge assortment of pre-owned Hermès bags for sale]
Originally used for Hermès saddles, Barenia is a smooth calfskin that is resistant to both scratches and rain.
Box calf is smooth and glossy, and although it is susceptible to scratches, they can be buffed into the leather's texture over time. Often found in vintage bags and neutral colors, but still actively produced today. Leave it at home on rainy days.
A pebbled, soft, water-resistant leather made from the hides of water buffalo. Dye tends to gather at the center of the pebbles, sometimes resulting in a spotted appearance.
A matte counterpart to box calf that does not scratch easily. It is not, however, water-resistant.
Chevre de Coromandel
Soft, lightweight, scratch-resistant, long-lasting goat leather.
Similar to Chevre de Coromandel, but with a smaller, more visible grained texture.
Clemence, one of Hermès's most popular leathers, is made from the hides of baby bulls. It's matte, flat-grained, soft and heavy, which gives otherwise structured bags a slouchier, more casual look. Resistant to scratches, but may blister when exposed to rain.
Traditional suede; scratches can be buffed out, but it should be kept away from moisture.
Popular stamped-grain leather that is lightweight, durable and easily cared for. Not particularly soft.
Similar in appearance and behavior to Box Calf, but softer to the touch.
A version of Evercalf with a finely grained stamped texture. Soft to the touch, and scratches are easily rubbed away.
Soft, heavy, flat-grained matte cowhide which is very durable, scratch-resistant and water-resistant. From a distance, the leather often looks like it has vertical veins running through it.
Lizard is an exotic leather made from the hides of African water monitors. The brand's most delicate leather and prone to drying out if not cared for properly. The scales add up to a glossy finish; because of the size of the animals, lizard is most commonly found in accessories and smaller handbags.
Delicate and very expensive. Hermès uses alligators farmed in Florida, and a matte bag usually costs a bit more than a shiny one, although alligator usually costs less than crocodile overall. Should be kept away from water.
Shiny (Lisse) Alligator
Delicate, but a shiny finish on the small alligator scales can help disguise imperfections. Alligator is visually distinguishable from crocodile because it lacks the dot-sized "pores" that mark every crocodile scale. Should be kept away from water.
Matte Niloticus Crocodile
Niloticus crocodiles come from the Nile region of Zimbabwe. As with other exotics, matte Nilo is more expensive than its shiny counterpart. Less expensive than Porosus Crocodile. In general, crocodile is somewhat durable, but it should be kept away from water to prevent water spots that do not fade.
Shiny Niloticus Crocodile
The glossier version of matte nilo. Should be kept away from water.
Matte Porosus Crocodile
Sourced from crocodiles farmed in Australia. Matte is more expensive than shiny, and Porosus is generally more expensive than Nilo, making Matte Porosus Croc Hermès's most expensive leather. Should be kept away from water to prevent non-fading water marks.
Shiny Porosus Crocodile
The glossier, slightly less expensive counterpart to Matte Porosus. Should be kept away from water.
Ostrich leather is the most durable exotic Hermès uses and is water-resistant, but will darken over time with exposure to skin oils.
Very soft and buttery; similar to Swift leather, but thinner and lighter. Susceptible to scratches.
Soft, smooth, relatively new calf leather with a matte finish. Susceptible to scratches.
Called Gulliver in bags manufactured before 1999. Swift is soft and fine-grained, and it picks up bright dyes particularly well. Scratches easily, but most can be rubbed out.
A smooth, grain-free, semi-glossy calfskin. Very similar to Box Calf, but softer. Most commonly found in small leather goods, but sometimes also used for small bags.
Soft, visibly grained and most commonly found in men's leather goods.
Togo is the most popular leather for Birkins. It's fine-grained, scratch-resistant baby calfskin that is relatively lightweight but still holds its shape.
Stiff, structured, durable cowhide with a natural grain and a touch of sheen. It is Hermès's thickest leather.
Smooth, untreated cowhide leather that is very delicate and darkens to a patina with time and use.