Preserving the leather, preserving the industry

Redwood Comment
Published:  16 March, 2017

If you buy something that is made with care and craftsmanship, you should look after it with care. That was the clear message that came from an utterly fascinating day spent with a group of owners of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars - old and new - at the UK Leather Conservation Centre recently. 

Essentially, the day was about conservation and renovation of leather and a lot of time was spent on examining the difference. It might sound trivial but looking after artefacts, including very old automobiles, needs a lot of thought. If the item is in poor condition, and is to be used regularly, then it is more likely that renovation will be needed; probably meaning some replacement of the leather. This diminishes the authenticity to some degree, but for Items like a chair or an automobile a sound seat is required. If it is going to a museum and rarely, if ever, be used conservation - with minimum intervention - is by far the best.

Therefore, if you own a wonderful item you must be careful who you use to help you care for it. Try not to choose someone who only wants to do the most extensive refinishing or replacement.

In fact, as the day progressed we saw the discussion move towards maintaining and preserving the leather rather than trying to correct it after it had got damaged. Many of the cars, even those over 80 years old, had been in the same ownership, or family at least, since new and they wanted to know how to look after the seats and the leather to avoid the sort of damage that often becomes visible after three or four decades of use. 

Leather lasts with careful management

It is a great question. It makes the point that leather does indeed last; it lasts a very long time. If the leather is not physically harmed by a sharp object cutting or scratching it, or as the result of overly aggressive treatment to remove a stain then it should last many decades. A lot depends on the cushioning under the leather and the quality of the stitching and threads. This is something for the designers to think about. It is imperative that they do not just design for an initial three-year car lease period and ignore what happens after.

Of the leathers, we looked at general grubbiness, dirt and wear in crease lines, and what looked like cracking of the finish and perhaps the leather seemed like the big problems. Consumers and many retailers talk about the "need to feed" the leather but often the concoctions being sold involve acids or alkalis that damage the leather, darkening and hardening it. Therefore, conservation experts hate saddle soap so much. Anyway, with automotive leather there is always a finish to negotiate, where a damp cloth is often the best treatment.

So, what is the message here?  It is simply that we are in the business of sustainability through responsible manufacture and the longevity of the products made from our leathers. That being the case no leather should be sold without appropriate consumer advice on how to look after that leather. From a pair of shoes whose life is measured in years to an automobile or classic bag that will be enjoyed for decades’ tanners should promote longevity by helping the consumer avoid the danger of careless maintenance spoiling the product.

Mike Redwood

16th March 2017

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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