Shiny, stiff and super-structured are all the attributes my mom absolutely adores in a bag, and coincidentally all the attributes present in patent leather too. So it’s probably pretty obvious that my mom is strictly pro-patent, and her fondness for the material goes a long way back. Ever since I was little, I used to see her tote around this gigantic framed bag in shiny merlot (pictured above) everywhere she went. I remember fidgeting with those chocolate bar-like cubes probably since I was in kindergarten, and it’s nearly as old as me by now. In fact, she still reaches for it at times, especially when I’m not looking, and I too confess to occasionally sashaying around with those squares. Only recently I’ve come to realize how it looks suspiciously like the Marc Jacobs Stam, which possibly explains her obsession with it.
But what, in fact, is patent leather, and even though my mom’s hopelessly in love with it, what do I think of it? Even more importantly, what do you? The antithesis of traditional full-grain leather, patent leather has been around for longer than many would like. Or for less longer than some of us would like, probably. Like my mom, for example.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, I was deeply under the impression that patent leather was this magical material whereby your bag lasts forever (example: my mom’s bag, which is seemingly indestructible). But genuine patent leather has a unique set of characteristics, which makes it different from natural leather and it’s important to understand how it’s made before we start spewing forth our opinions about it. Predominantly, patent leather is made from a thin, light layer of hide coated with a layer of lacquer and/or vinyl, which results in the glossy finish of the material. A few fashion houses have also released patent versions of snakeskin-embossed, croc-embossed, quilted or crinkled leathers, though it’s most often kept smooth. Designers also tend to steer clear of using the highest quality, full-grain leather as the base of the patent material since these require the hide to be buffed out and smoothened, losing the natural texture and suppleness of the leather itself.
Now there are, in fact, a number of major advantages that patent leather tends to offer over natural leather that makes it highly preferable – the first obviously being its appearance. Although patent, in my opinion, is a tad too shiny for serving as your everyday hauler, it is an excellent option for evening bags/clutches – its gloss serving as the perfect accessory to elevate everything from a little black dress to a wedding ensemble. Plus given that this usually tends to be on the structured side, it looks best on dressy bags rather than on our more neutral weekday carryalls. Something that also ties in with the “look” factor of patent leather is how all the colors it comes in tend to be more edgy and bright than simply colored leather, so everything from blacks to beiges to reds and metallics appear more cheery when done in patent.
Looks aside though, patent leather is superior over “regular” leather in a number of ways. First off, it’s highly stain and water resistant, so it’s a great material for “night-out” bags, that are usually prone to be subjected to water, wine, or maybe even gravy spills, and who wouldn’t want the assurance of simply being able to wipe the culprit off with a cloth, right? In fact, patent doesn’t scratch or crease as easily as regular leather either, so goodbye sad saggy handbags, hello shiny patents!
Second, unlike natural leather which requires regular cleaning, moisturizing and conditioning, patent leather literally requires no maintenance at all. In fact, all you’d have to do is wipe the dust off of it once in a while and your bag’s ready to slay the evening!
Another big benefit of opting for patent leather is that, given the generally lower quality of leather used for its base, it tends to be on the more affordable side too. So to reinforce my first point, patent makes great novelty and evening bags!
But as you might have guessed, it’s not all fun and games when it comes to patent leather. In fact, much to my own surprise, patent leather is susceptible to one of the biggest problems that afflict leather bag lovers – color transfer! Since patent is able to absorb moisture, but the leather, being coated with vinyl, isn’t breathable, the perspiration on it builds up. So if you simply place it next to a colored item (and god forbid, wear dark denims with a patent white bag!), you’re bound to get splotches of color on your pristine bag and sadly, this is almost always irreversible. It doesn’t even need any moisture or heat for the transfer to occur – it’s frustratingly automatic. But on natural leather, color transfer can be treated with a range of cleaning and conditioning products, so there’s always the scope of repair compared to the laminated skin in patent.
Another huge issue when it comes to patent products is its durability. Leather, by nature (and with sufficient care), can last generations. Its lacquered counterpart, however, tends to deteriorate over time. Hence, it can start to feel sticky after a certain length of time even if you’ve been babying it every time you took it out of your closet. And if creases have begun to develop, although they shouldn’t be developing for quite a while (unless you have been especially unkind to your purse), they’re usually not only irreparable, but they’re likely to morph into large cracks. Shocking! And if that happens, it puts a huge dent in the bag’s resale value too, especially if you’re handling investment pieces like patent Chanel flaps.
Furthermore, in patent leather you’re unlikely to find the divine, earthy smell of natural leather and lose out on the smooth, smooshy buttery texture of calfskin, lambskin or goatskin, so if that’s what you’d like, you’re probably much better off using purses made of corrected grained leather (which has a natural sheen) rather than patent.
Regardless of its pros and cons though, patent leather has become a permanent fixture in fashion and appears almost every season on the runway in some form or another. Even then, is it a wardrobe staple? I’m tempted to say yes, because I don’t think you could ever go wrong with a black patent clutch and a black patent pair of pumps. Besides that, if you’d really like to incorporate some patent into your everyday wardrobe, certain fashion houses, also make purses with patent trims and I really like how that styles up a more basic coated canvas bag without being loud. But then that’s just me.
What do you think? Are you pro-patent too, like my mom (who’s giving you all high-fives right now) or do you find it tacky and would rather you pass up on it?