One of the most common questions asked on TPF’s Hermès Sub-Forum regards the many kinds of leather on offer and how to choose among them. Over the years, Hermès has utilized many (about 80!) different materials for its bags, most commonly a version of cowhide (“Vache“) or calf (“Veau“), and each has its own pros and cons. In this article, I will offer my opinion on what may be characterized as the more underrated or overrated among the current leathers.

First, the disclaimer: of course, this article is only my opinion. As much as possible, I’ve tried to use my own firsthand knowledge when making recommendations (I’ve had bags and/or SLGs in 17 different leathers, and close friends have had several others). Always remember that each leather may vary a bit by the batch, and most of what I discuss here is the general rule, not the exception.

Current Leathers Used For Hermès Bags

Currently, the leathers being used for bags include: Alligator, Barenia, Barenia Faubourg, Boxcalf, Chevre (Chamkila, Chandra, Mysore), Crocodile, Lizard, Ostrich, Vache Hunter, Vache Naturel, Veau Doblis, Veau Epsom, Veau Evercalf, Veau Evercolor, Veau Grizzly, Veau Jonathan, Veau Madame, Veau Monsieur, Veau Sombrero, Veau Swift, Veau Tadelakt, Veau Taurillon Clemence, Veau Taurillon Maurice, Veau Tarillon Novillo, Veau Togo and Veau Volynka. Some of these are new; some are not commonly used; some are being phased out, and a few others are expected to be phased in soon (such as Sylvania).

My Personal Favorite Hermès Leathers

The leathers below are not necessarily my personal favorites, nor leathers I dislike. The characteristics I value are not always to everyone’s taste, and this choice is somewhat subjective, otherwise, this would be an article on my favorite leathers, with a companion article on leathers to avoid. If you just want to know what I personally prefer to buy, my five favorite leathers for bags are Chevre, Togo, Alligator/Crocodile, Tadelakt, and Evercolor (I enjoy Evercolor, but since working on this article I’m tempted to try Barenia!). I will discuss the merits of these in a coming article.

Additionally, this is not just a list of overrated and underrated leathers. I did my best to compare like-with-like: leathers that are smooth and develop a patina shouldn’t really be compared with those which are grained and scratch-resistant. Lastly, this isn’t meant to dissuade you from your personal preferences; it’s just a suggestion that you consider taking a look at something similar which may (or may not!) be better for you or fill a need.

So, not that you asked, but here are my thoughts…

Overrated: Swift vs. Underrated: Tadelakt

Many people like Swift, a smooth leather that takes color very well. It has a fine grain and is very supple (flexible). This leather is used for many styles of bags, including Birkins, Kellys (Retourne), and clutches such as the Kelly Pochette and Jige.

Conversely, many people are wary of Tadelakt, another smooth, albeit firm leather, which has been used, though not as widely, on popular bags including Birkins, Kellys (Sellier), and Constances. Originally thought of as an heir to Boxcalf or even Barenia due to its appearance in certain colors, people have shied away from Tadelakt bags due to it being considered delicate.

Swift Birkin in Rose Azalee. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Swift Birkin in Rose Azalee. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Tadelakt 28cm Kelly Sellier in Rose Lipstick. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Tadelakt 28cm Kelly Sellier in Rose Lipstick. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Not As Delicate As You May Think

I’m not going to tell you that you don’t need to be careful with Tadelakt, but in my personal experience, it is not any more delicate or scratch-prone than Swift. I have owned a Rose Azalee Birkin in Swift and a Rose Lipstick Kelly Sellier in Tadelakt – colors which are as close to each other as you can get – and for me, the Tadelakt won hands-down. The Swift Birkin scratched sooner than the Tadelakt Kelly, and the scratch did not seem to buff out with a finger rub (which my Tadelakt did). Both take color very well: the Swift may be a bit more vibrant, (I felt the Azalee seems almost neon in Swift, the Lipstick Tadelakt is more subdued).

Beautiful sheen of Tadelakt Leather.

This photo highlights the beautiful sheen of Tadelakt. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

The Tadelakt, however, has a sheen to it which is difficult to describe:the terms shimmery, or even iridescent come to mind. I have never seen any other leather with this kind of sheen, and to me, it’s magical and should be seen in person. The only thing to note is that some Tadelakt skins do appear to have light streaking due to to the nature of the leather.

Overrated: Togo vs Underrated: Clemence

These leathers are as similar as you can get, which is why there are countless PurseForum threads asking which to choose and what their differences really are. I’ve had bags in both, and Togo is indeed on my top five list, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat overrated when compared to Clemence. In fact, I would even consider Togo to be “Clemence Lite” (ducks behind furniture for protection)…

When it comes down to it, both are baby Veau (calf) leathers: Togo is the female and Clemence is the male. Specifically, these are the main differences (and similarities) between them:

Similarities and differences between Togo and Clemence Leathers

Similarities and differences between Togo and Clemence Leathers

So why is Clemence less popular than Togo? Well, yes, it’s definitely heavier and slouchier. However, in smaller bags, these possible issues don’t really have an impact: a 25cm Birkin, for example, isn’t going to weigh much more in Clemence, and if it’s not overstuffed it shouldn’t get slouchy.

I personally find Clemence to be a yummy leather, thick and luxurious in a way that Togo, which can tend towards being thin and dry, just can’t. Some Togo batches are noticeably thinner and drier than others, which to me makes those a bit more delicate and less sturdy. When it comes down to it, though, both are excellent, well-wearing options, and you really can’t go wrong with either.

Togo Birkin in Etain - Note the veining on the right side of the bag. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Togo Birkin in Etain, Note the veining on the left side of the bag.

A yummy Clemence Mou Kelly in Ciel. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

A yummy Clemence Mou Kelly in Ciel.

Not all togo has veins, but most bags have a bit. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Not all Togo has veins, but most bags have a bit. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Comparing Togo vs. Clemence Slouch

A workhorse 35cm Clemence Birkin in Rouge H and 30cm Togo Birkin in Etoupe. The Clemence had been used often for 4 years and the smaller Togo had been used for 6 years. Both got similarly slouchy: don't overstuff your bags. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

A workhorse 35cm Clemence Birkin in Rouge H and 30cm Togo Birkin in Etoupe. The Clemence had been used for 4 years and the smaller Togo for 6 years. Both got similarly slouchy. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

Overrated: Lizard vs. Underrated: Ostrich

Both Lizard and Ostrich are firm, smooth exotic leathers. Both have had varying availability over the years.

Many people love Lizard, which comes in both shiny and matte; particularly popular is the ombre version showing rings and a color gradation from cream to dark. Ostrich seems to have a reputation for being more delicate and tricky to care for, and some people do not like its texture due to the follicles.

For many years I was one of those people, although my opinion changed when I saw Ostrich items in person: the texture is not pronounced in many colors (and nearly invisible in black). I have also found Lizard to be tricky to maintain and care for; it shouldn’t get wet at all, and the scales can dry out and possibly lift. Even the beautiful creamy color of ombre will yellow over time.

Ombre Lizard. Photo via TPFer @Ranag

Ombre Lizard. Photo via TPFer @Ranag

28cm Kelly Sellier in Ostrich. If well-cared for, Ostrich will last a very long time - this bag is from 1999! Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

28cm Kelly Sellier in Ostrich. If well-cared for, Ostrich will last – this bag is from 1999!

Ostrich, which will lighten if subjected to too much light, darken where repeatedly touched, and cannot come in contact with anything oily or oil-based, is still better over the long term: while twilly-wrapped handles are a necessity for all exotic bags, water is fine for Ostrich (just pat it dry), and if it’s reasonably looked after it will look fabulous for many years (see below, 22-year-old Ostrich Kelly, which looks perfect!).

Overrated: Boxcalf (“Box”) vs. Underrated: Barenia

Ah, the showdown of the Hermès Heritage leathers!

Both scratch. Both develop a patina. Both are firm and smooth.

Box or Barenia – which is it? Well, obviously it’s both, but over the years I have heard many more oooh and aahs over Box – the long-desired BBK or BBB (Black Box Kelly or Birkin) than the often-caveated Barenia. “It’s fabulous, but…”.

A brand new Black Box Birkin

A Brand New Black Box Birkin. Photo via @cj_luuuu

A 20 year old Black Box Birkin with a gorgeous patina. Photo via TPFer @Hihihigh

A 20 year old Black Box Birkin with a gorgeous patina. Photo via TPFer @Hihihigh

Box is beloved as quintessential Hermès: if you were to imagine the classic Kelly Sellier bag, you’re probably imagining it in Box, which is shiny, smooth, and elegant. While prone to scratching, these scratches blend together over time and develop a luscious, shiny patina. Box is arguably one of the most popular and oldest Hermès bag leathers.

A Barenia Birkin with Patina

A Barenia Birkin which is just starting to develop a patina. Photo via TPFer @tahoebleu

A 20 year-old Barenia Evelyne. Photo via TPFer @viciou67

A 20 year-old Barenia Evelyne. Photo via TPFer @viciou67

Barenia, which has a substantial feel and is also smooth, was originally utilized for saddles and is also beloved in its own right due to its unique characteristics, including a fabulous scent. It is also prone to scratching, but, unlike with Box, lighter scratches can be rubbed out with your fingers. Also unlike Box, however, Barenia, which is usually a natural color (it’s sometimes produced in Black, Olive, Indigo or Ebene) has more visible “flaws” even when new, and also has a tendency to darken, especially where it is often touched. It, too, develops a patina. Barenia is not a leather for those who want their bags to remain perfect and pristine: it begins with character, which only deepens over time.

Ebene Barenia Birkin and Constance

Ebene Barenia Birkin and Constance. Photo via TPFer @WKN

Hermès Box Leather can have some veining

Hermès Box Leather can have some veining. Photo via TPFer @Avintage

So why do I feel that Barenia is underrated compared to Box?

Well – and I say this as someone generally on the team of “Keep It Perfect As Long As Possible” – there is something to be said for an old-school thick, smooth, classic Hermès leather that develops a cool patina and tons of character.

Note that Boxcalf can also occasionally have veins or streaking, and – this is a deal-breaker for me for any non-exotic leather – Box absolutely cannot get wet, or it will blister.

Overrated: ??? vs. Underrated: Epsom

Ok, for this last one I cheated.

If I’m putting Epsom on the “underrated” list, the comparable counterleather (ah, new word!) to put on the “overrated” list is naturally Chevre…and, well, Chevre is my all-time favorite leather, and it’s actually not overrated, so I’m not going to put it there.

Is Chevre perfect? No…but for me, it’s close.

Sturdy (it’s used to line most bags), doesn’t lose shape, takes color great, easy to refurbish, not prone to scratches, not particularly heavy, fine in all weather…do you see where I’m going with this? The only real objection I’ve seen with Chevre is that some people don’t like the sheen and texture – it’s goatskin – which I happen to love.

This Rose Shocking Wallet in Chevre has become a little stretched out over time. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

This Rose Shocking Wallet in Chevre has become a little stretched out.

So, yeah, Chevre is not overrated. However, Epsom is somewhat underrated.

Most of the above qualities I’ve listed for Chevre also apply to Epsom: sturdy, not prone to scratches, one of the lightest leathers, fine in all weather.

I have carried this Epsom Silk'In Wallet almost daily for 5 years and it's been everywhere - still holds its shape. Photo via @The_Notorious_Pink

I’ve carried this Epsom Silk’In Wallet almost daily for 5 years – still holds its shape.

In fact, one thing I’ll give to Epsom over Chevre is that it is preferable in non-bag items like wallets because it’s even better at maintaining its shape over time. The two considerations with Epsom are that people may not like the texture – some describe it as “plastic-y”, although I don’t find it as such – and there is some debate as to how well it can be refurbished by Hermès craftspeople.

So – what do you think of my assessment? Do you agree or disagree? Did I get anything wrong? Please let me know in the comments!

* I enjoy Evercolor, but since working on this article I’m tempted to try Barenia! Stay tuned…

For more information, visit the following threads on PurseForum:

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Linda
Linda
5 months ago

Excellent article! Have you done a closet confidential? I am curious to how you have obtained so many Hermes bags over the years!

jennifer
jennifer
5 months ago

Fantastic article!

Starr
Starr
5 months ago

Like Chanel caviar, the leathers at Hermes can vary season to season, batch to batch too. I think most Hermes leathers don’t vary but a huge deal but I have found the most variation in Epsom. ‘Good’ Epsom to me is very hardy and ‘looks’ like quality, but ‘not so good’ Epsom to me is dry, scratchy and more prone to corner wear.

Louie
Louie
5 months ago
Reply to  Starr

The ‘not so good’ Epson is probably treatable with a neutral leather wax. Should make it more supple and durable.

Tonimichelle
Tonimichelle
5 months ago

Great article, thank you! I would say however that Clemence can have a little veining on occasion. It’s not terribly obvious but my B30 Clemence has a little.

F689BC4D-BD69-4BA0-B9E2-B6333F3208FC.jpeg
Celia Weaver
Celia Weaver
5 months ago

BARENIA! I have a Birkin in natural Barenia and let me tell you, although I have many bags, she is my go to for daily use. And you’re right about her scent; every time I walk into the room she’s sitting in, I find myself slowly inhaling her scent. It’s intoxicating. The look, feel and scent of this leather is as relaxed as it is sophisticated; she truly satisfies all the senses.

Fan
Fan
5 months ago
Reply to  Celia Weaver

Please post a photo. Would love to see this.

Maxine
Maxine
5 months ago

I just cannot get past the great, big, ugly seam on the top of the Birkin, don’t understand the appeal.I also think it’s a ‘look how wealthy I am’ symbol. The z list have ruined it and the secondary market is huge, which makes it a questionable purchase for me.I much prefer the beautiful, classic, Kelly.

Sheree
Sheree
5 months ago
Reply to  Maxine

I wish they made the original bag made for Jane Birkin which was made with shoulder straps.

HelenaWoods
HelenaWoods
5 months ago
Reply to  Maxine

🙄🙄🙄

Maxine
Maxine
5 months ago
Reply to  HelenaWoods

Not sure what that means

Chris1011
Chris1011
5 months ago

Thanks for the detailed, educational article. I agree that Evercolour is a great leather but dislike Epsom for that “fake” look, to my eyes. Barenia and clemence — they personify “leather,” IMHO. And chevre is heavenly to touch and the eye.

Michelle Kerrigan
Michelle Kerrigan
5 months ago

I love this article! There’s so much to learn about Hermes and it’s heritage!

Judith
Judith
5 months ago

Another wonderful article – thanks! Very similar opinions here: chevre is great for SLGs (most of my Calvis), epsom feels like plastic but works well for my K wallet. I have lots of Barenia, which I adore, and also box and chamonix. (Smooth leathers for me, please.) My Clemence Trim31 was too heavy and Togo — I don’t have! Ostrich is on the wish list, mostly for the kinkiness. 🙂

Angela
Angela
5 months ago

Pretty spot on! I love Togo and own a few Birkin 35’s, but they’re heavy. I was offered a 35 in Epsom leather in a color I coveted, but I balked because I thought it would look too plastic. My SA said “let me get it just for you to look at”. I fell in love with the weight, color and leather. I think Togo is great, but only in a 25 or 30. Also, I read that Ostrich leather looks “very textured”, but is actually soft to the touch. I’ve never seen one so I don’t really know, but I’m very interested. 🤞

Ree
Ree
5 months ago
Reply to  Angela

I’m considering a 35 in Togo……
Are they really that heavy? It’s a beautiful blue color…..

Donna Bowers
Donna Bowers
5 months ago
Reply to  Angela

I have an ostrich piece and its really an interesting texture. Very supple but sturdy.

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