Leather is not only a functional and aesthetic material. It is also a structural material whose physical properties – natural or artificial – can determine a shape. It just takes technique and savoir-faire to produce useful and innovative products. Leather to sculpt, leather to stretch, leather to mould…at Première Vision Leather show, the tanners give shape to all our desires.

Sculpting leather
Synonymous with liberty and sensuality, the suppleness of leather is appreciated by its aficionados. But it also gives shapes an undeniably ephemeral character. That is why certain imaginative and proactive tanners were inspired to combine leather with a self-supporting material that can thus produce forms that are both changeable and lasting. This is known as shape memory. So, after having split the leather, Marmara Deri bonded full or perforated lambskin with a very fine sheet of aluminium foil which was itself attached to fabric using a special glue. In a similar approach, the tannery Pistolesi separates lamb leather into two layers and sandwiches a sheet of foil between them. The grain side has a smooth finish rather like dipped leather while the flesh side is coated with a golden film. Their creators are proud of their articles, which are designed for use in footwear or leather goods, for consumers who are looking for playful products.

©-Marmara-Deri-1            ©-Marmara-Deri-2           ©-Pistolesi-4
Lambskin bonded onto a foil background                          Lambskin bonded onto a foil background                      Metallic lamb leather bonded onto foil
by Marmara Deri                                                                         by Marmara Deri                                                               by Pistolesi


Stretching leather
Although it is a malleable material, leather is not very stretchy and does not appreciate being pulled out of shape. But tanners have invented stretch leather by combining it with an elastic fabric that both supports it and allows it to make the most unexpected movements. “Our stretch leathers generally have around 30% elasticity,” says our contact at Cuirs du Futur, one of the leading specialists in this material. “Even our perforated leathers. We have just produced a patent stretch leather that is very interesting for shoes as it does not crack when stretched, and offers nearly 20% elasticity.” Similar performances are achieved by André Hiriar, which claims between 25% and 30% elasticity for its stretch items. “When they stretch, the collagen fibres in the leather are not broken and the leather will not sag”, explains a manager from the tannery. This makes it an ideal material for close-fitting garments like leggings, pencil skirts and thigh boots.

However, it is not easy to obtain such properties and the production process for stretch leather is very challenging. “We reduce the thickness of the leather to 0.25mm thanks to high precision splitting in a machine fitted with blades below and a drum above that absorbs the differences in thickness ” explains an expert from Joqueviel et Cathala. “Nourishing products also play their role in creating softness and the subsequent elasticity”. “The tanning process has to be very homogenous for the skin to be pared so thinly” adds a colleague from André Hiriar. The bonding uses a special glue that is not absorbed by the leather. “We use a lighter fabric for clothing and a stronger one for footwear”, Cuirs du Futur tells us. The leather is shrunk at the dyeing stage at André Hiriar or during the drum-drying stage for the washed calf leather from Nuova Antilope. A very delicate operation that requires great skill!

 ©-André-Hiriar-7            ©-Cuirs-du-Futur-5             ©-Cuirs-du-Futur-6              ©-Nuova-Antilope-8
Smooth and suede stretch leathers     Metallic stretch lamb leather                Perforated stretch lamb leather          Washed crispy stretch calf leather
by Cuirs du Futur                                     by André Hiriar                                         by Cuirs du Futur                                      by Nuova Antilope

Moulding leather
A shape-shifting product, leather can also be moulded to hold a given shape. Once it has been dampened by spraying or dipping, the leather softens and can then be pressed or stretched with clips over a wooden or resin mould. Left to dry naturally or in a structure at 35°, it hardens and retains the form it has been given. “Vegetable-tanned leather is the most suitable for moulding as when it is dampened the fibres are less horizontal and more likely to retain the shape of the mould“, explains a manager from the Swedish tannery, Tärnsjö Garveri. “We recommended moulding with vegetable-tanned leather that is between 1.5 and 4 mm thick,” adds a colleague from Tannerie Arnal,” Leather used for moulding must have little flesh ,” adds another expert from the Tannerie Masure.
Although the uses are limited, they are also very emblematic of leathers and its potential. “We provide the leather for the famous Brooks bicycle saddles,” the expert from the Scandinavian tannery proudly tells us. Moulded leather is also used in orthopaedics for items in contact with the skin. Pen, cigar or weapon cases and camera cases are also typical applications of moulded leather. Traditional objects that are continue to prove their worth.

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Brooks bicycle saddle in vegetable-tanned leather                                                 Vegetable-tanned leather for moulding
from Tärnsjö Garveri                                                                                                       from Tannerie Arnal