What is Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather like?

Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather

The Italian vegetable tanned leather that I use comes from Tuscany and it is also known as Tuscan Vegetable Tanned Leather.

The tanneries who I buy the leather from are part of a consortium of approx 22 tanneries that form the Consorzio Vera Pelle. The Consorzio Vera Pelle regulates the tanneries with a set of standards that preserves the tradition of Tuscan vegetable tanned leather as well as holding them to certain sustainable operating standards including water recycling (leather uses a lot of water in the tanning process).

Tuscan vegetable tanned leather primarily uses tanning extracts from the following trees (scroll down for further details on these extracts):

  • Mimosa

  • Chestnut

  • Quebracho

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‘Buttery Soft’

For us as purchasers of this leather, you will notice it feels ‘hard’ to begin with and softens with use as all veg tan leather does. Italian vegetable tanned leather goes onto have what I would describe as a ‘buttery soft’ feel.

Patina - Looking at the photo of the black leather below (1st image) you will see it has a ‘matt’ quality to start with (leather - bottom right) then develops a sheen called a patina (leather - top left).

Taken from the shoulder - As this leather comes from the shoulder of the cow, you can find some visible stretch marks on the surface but this all contributes to the charm. If you look at the 2nd image below, I left part of the bag in sunlight and you can see how the leather has lightened (slightly stripped) but you can see the grain lines on leather. Shoulder leather will have more lines, which are stretch marks as the animal makes a lot of movement in the shoulder, just like you or I would. When the colour is dark (don’t keep it in the sun) you won’t see the lines much, some may be slightly pronounced in the surface.

How italian vegetable tanned leather ages

The 2nd image below is a good example of how the leather can wear & age in general. You can see what happens if it is left in the sun and also how the leather looks that is not in the sun. Take a look at the bit of leather that’s been hidden by the strap, you can see it’s much darker. The lighter part will darken too and take on a lovely tone. Even thought it looks a bit harsh perhaps, when you see it change it is beautiful.

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How does Italian vegetable tanned leather age

summary 0f aging process

Appearance Never Stays The Same - as this type of leather is tanned in a natural way, the appearance of the leather will change over time.

  • Colour: more pronounced on lighter colours and most definitely on un dyed vegetable tanned leather, the colour will darken.

  • Softens with use: vegetable tanned leather starts out firm and hard but the more you use it, the more it softens. Different tanneries/regions will have a slightly different recipe but based on the same core principles. Leather from Tuscany will go a ‘buttery’ soft over time. Where bridle leather from England will have a more waxy feel.

  • Affected by direct sunlight: if you leave the leather in direct sunlight it will strip the colour from the area exposed.

  • Scratches: if you bring a sharp object against it, it will take on the scratch. If you scratch your nails against the surface, it will mark. This is part and parcel of using this leather.

  • Patina: all of the above creates a beautiful patina or soft sheen to the leather. Honestly, once you use the leather the feel/texture of it is lovely!

  • Smaller colour palette and not as vibrant: Vegetable tanned leather tends to have a more limited colour palette which have more muted tones.

vachetta leather

If you read or hear of ‘Vachetta’ leather, this comes from Tuscany. Vachetta is un dyed so it starts off as a pale natural colour and with exposure to sun, wear and your touch, it will develop into a darker brown. Louis Vuitton for example uses this on the handles on some of its bags. I’m going to research further on this and will update with more information.

Tanning extracts for Italian (Tuscan) vegetable tanned leather

(Text below taken from the Consorzio Vera Pelle book from the Lineapelle London Fair - July 2018)

Mimosa - Mimosa extract gives a rose tone to leather for goods, shoes and soles. It is often used with other vegetable extracts.

Chestnut - Chestnut tannin is taken from the trunk of a chestnut tree and is used for heavy leather and sole leather as it produces a compact flexible leather with good water resistance.

Quebracho - Quebracho comes from Argentina and is widely used in vegetable tanning. Quebracho vegetable tanning gives warmth, softness and resistance.