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.
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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.
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).
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:
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.
Comparing Togo vs. Clemence Slouch
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.
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…”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: