Anilines vs. Finished Leathers

“What is the difference between aniline and finished leathers?”  This is just one of those questions that seems to come up on numerous occasions when I speak with customers.  The simple answer almost everything.  They are on opposite ends of the leather spectrum and there are a whole slew of leathers in-between.  Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “That doesn’t really help me”, and I agree.  Therefore, since I’m a sucker for detail let me begin by clarifying.  Over the years of client communication I have found that aniline leathers can be one of the hardest to wrap your head around, so why not start here?
If there is anything I have learned throughout my life working in the leather industry it is that it is extremely difficult to be consistent when you are working with a natural product.  As the 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”.  Unless you have every felt one it is almost impossible to describe.  They are extremely soft and radiate timeless class.  However unlike finished leathers that are extremely stable, aniline leathers are constantly adjusting to their environment.  In an effort to describe why they are this way I’m going to use my favorite comparison, Stradivarius orchestral string instruments.  Stradivarius string instruments crafted during the 17th and 18th centuries are by collective agreement the greatest string instruments ever made.  The interesting question is why?  Wouldn’t we with all of our precise methods of manufacturing and knowledge of audible science be able to produce finer instruments in the 21st century?  According to recent studies on the topic one of the key factors contributing to sound in string instruments is the quality 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 a far 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.
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 this case cow hides, by means of thickness and uniformity.  (If you tend to over analyze as I do you should read up on Allen’s law for more clarification.)  If you were to tan and aniline dye ten hides with no color correction it is highly probably that not a single hide would color match as dyes absorb into skin at different rates and react to form different colors.  This is extremely difficult and expensive for upholsterers and leather producers who would need to purchase/tan twenty hides to find two that match for upholstering.  This is because no one wants a leather couch that has two different shaded cushions.  Not to mention that without protection the leather cushions would fade rapidly to different colors, scratch without repair at the slightest touch from a home pet, and absorb anything split on it (red wine, water, food, etc.) like a brand new sponge.  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 feel of an aniline leather.  This means that even though color will be consist within a dye lot they will still fade in direct sunlight and still absorb liquids. Examples of these types of leathers are:
At the other end of the spectrum we have our heavily finished leathers, or as I like to refer to them, our “bullet proof” leathers.
A finished leather is one that has been altered after dyeing by means of color correction.  These leathers allow the leather industry to compensate for the upkeep intensiveness of anilines.  The extent of the finishing applied to these hides will ultimately lead to two outcomes.
  1. Extremely clean hides where the finish essential acts as a make-up covering up natural flaws
  2. Leathers that can withstand the rigors of everyday living with extremely little change over time. 

Sometimes referred to as Contact/Hospitality or "Family Friendly" leathers, here a are few example of these types that we carry at Wipelli:

When browsing for leathers in this category try not 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.
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 to 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.  Here is what I mean by that statement.  Since usually, however not always, extremely soft feeling and fully protected leathers are not synonymous, semi-anilines usually lose one to gain the other.  To gain extraordinary feel less color correction is applied thus causing the leather to be more dynamic.  To gain protection more color correction is added and thus the natural feel is lost.  Here at Wipelli we are extremely proud to boast such an extremely diversified group of semi-anilines that still have remarkable hand and an unprecedented level of protection.  Examples would include:

We know leather buying can be a stressful endeavor with the variety of styles and terminology, but remember it doesn’t have to be.  I cannot stress enough that we are here to help you in selecting the correct leather for your job.  Not only in color and style but in feel and longevity.  As a buyer the only way to know for sure is to ask your supplier who handles the articles every day.  Let our 150 years of experience be your guide.  We are no more than an email away.