Leather 101: Anilines vs. Finished Leathers

Welcome to our second installment of Leather 101!  Our goal here is to shed some light into the world of leather and give you a glimpse behind the curtain.  Each installment can be viewed as a stand alone post, however for the best understanding of the subject we suggest reading them all in order.  If you haven't read our first installment regarding hide sizes and shapes please do so.

Part I.  Aniline Leathers
“So, what is the difference between an aniline and a finished leather?”  This is one of the more frequently asked questions that we get from our customers, and it can be difficult to answer.  The goal of this installment will be to clear up the mystery behind this loaded question, and offer a detailed understand of why these differences can be a benefit to your projects.

i. Comparisons to Nature
Aniline leathers can be difficult to wrap your head around, but fortunately there are real life comparisons that help them start to make sense.  Lets start with the fact that it is exceedingly difficult to be consistent when you are working with a natural product.  As our environment changes so does its imprint on the animals which we live and rely upon.  When trying to describe aniline leathers I like to use the word “natural” or “naked” because I feel it is the simplest way to describe it.  This characteristic results in two distinct features.  A remarkably soft leather but also one that will change over time with use.  Unlike finished leathers that are very stable, aniline leathers are constantly adjusting to their environment.  In an effort to describe why aniline leathers are this way lets focus on a familiar material that has many striking similarities.  Wood, and more specifically the wood from a Stradivarius orchestral string instrument.  
Stradivarius string instruments crafted during the 17th and 18th centuries are by collective agreement one of the greatest string instruments ever made.  The interesting question is why?  According to recent studies on the topic, one of the key factors contributing to the quality of sound in string instruments is the density of the wood, a natural product.  It is widely agreed upon that Antonio Stradivari harvested the wood for his famous violins in the forests of Europe that matured during the Little Ice Age, a period of worldwide cooling from ~1300-1850.  These colder temperatures resulted in trees with higher density than we see today and thus wood perfectly suited for his famous violins.  Now obviously trees react to their environment differently than animals but the similarities of how animals adjust to nature is no different.

ii. Anilines
In the purist sense of the word aniline describes a leather in which the only alteration after tanning is dying.  This means the leather will have undergone absolutely no color correction.  As you can probably imagine this can be extremely problematic.  As discussed earlier, nature tends to annoyingly alter things on a regular basis.  In our case cow hides, by means of thickness and genetic composition / uniformity.  For example, if you were to tan a group of hides without color correction that were only dyed it is highly probably that not a single hide would color match as dyes absorb into skin at different rates and thus react to form different color shades.  This can be both cumbersome and expensive for upholsterers and leather producers who would need to purchase / tan numerous hides to find matching groups.
Here at Wipelli our selection of aniline leathers have a very slight color correction.  This is just enough to allow for consistency in color but still retain the outstanding feel of an aniline leather.  This means that even though color will be uniform within a dye lot hides will still fade in direct sunlight and absorb liquids, consistent with aniline leathers. Examples of these types of leathers are:
  1. Dover
 Part II.  Finished Leathers
At the other end of the spectrum we have our finished leathers.  A finished leather is one that has been altered after dyeing by means of color correction.  The extent of the finish / color correction applied to these hides will ultimately lead to two outcomes.
  1. Clean hides where the finish essential acts as a make-up concealing natural flaws
  2. Leathers that can withstand the rigors of everyday living with little to no variation over time. 

Sometimes referred to as Contact / Hospitality or "Family Friendly" leathers, Wipelli offers a wide selection of finished leathers varying in both look and feel.  Examples of these types of leathers are:

  1. Angelina
  2. MaxGuard 99.9
When browsing for leathers in this category make sure not to limit yourself to solid colors as this type of protection can appear in a variety of styles.  If you’re looking for a rustic crackle, maybe Austin is for you.  If you prefer the look of a metallic or something bold look no further than Venus or Monty.

Part III.  Semi-Aniline Leathers
Just in case that wasn’t enough variety for you we have one more class of leathers to share; where anilines and finished leathers overlap.  We refer to these leathers stuck in the middle as semi-anilines.  They are a union of anilines and finished leathers where some traits from both are preserved.  There are obviously many factors to be considered, level of protection and feel to name a few, however the following visual aid may help you visualize what I'm describing.
Another example that might help is to envision this relationship as a Venn diagram with anilines on the left, finished leathers on the right, and semi-anilines in the middle.  Since usually, however not always, leathers that are both soft and fully protected are not synonymous, semi-anilines usually lose one to gain the other.  To gain the soft natural feel of an aniline less color correction is applied thus causing the leather to be more dynamic over time.  To gain protection more color correction is added and thus the natural feel is reduced.  Here at Wipelli we are proud to boast such a diversified group of semi-anilines that still have remarkable hand and an unprecedented level of protection.  Examples would include:

  1. Velveteen

Part IV.  Common Selection Criteria

There are numerous factors involved in determining what finish is best suited for your project, but none more so than traffic, environment, and longevity.  Here are a few scenarios:

 Low / Good  (★)     -------     High / Best  (★★★★★)

Aniline Semi-Aniline Finished
Fade Protection
Color Variation
Price $$$ $$ $



Don't forget to check in on our later installments of Leather 101!

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