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The Definitive Guide to Cordovan Leather Care

Posted in Guide by Hannes Rebas

The Definitive Guide to Cordovan Leather Care

Highly sought after and limited in supply worldwide, the equine leather known as (shell) cordovan is exceptionally hardy, lustrous and has great water and dirt repellent properties.

It has a very fine grain and tends to form distinctive soft ripples with use, rather than the fine creases that you see in calfskin. It is also easier to care for than calfskin leather, needing only an occasional conditioning and polishing to maintain a beautifully rich colour and shine.

Cordovan leather is prepared using the traditional and labour intensive method of vegetable tannage, as opposed to modern chrome tannage. During preparation, the leather is saturated with tanning liquors containing oils and waxes which remain in the finished leather. These can sometimes surface as a white, waxy substance during the first few uses. This is entirely normal and the excess wax can be wiped off with a cloth or paper towel. Water exposure can cause cordovan leather to form tiny protuberances called welts, but they will recede as the shoes dry.

The most common fault when caring for cordovan leather is applying too much and/or the wrong kind of shoe care product. Apart from caking up on the surface, smothering its inherent colour and patina, too much cream or polish may actually dull its natural shine. And as with all as shoes, excess polish in the vamp area often leads to unsightly crumbling in the creases. When applying pigmented product to your cordovan shoes, we recommend using only the smallest amount of high quality wax polish or a designated cordovan shoe cream. Never clean cordovan leather using saddle soap or harsh chemicals.

For routine maintenance, a light brushing or buffing will suffice, but for more thorough cleaning and conditioning you can use a polishing bone and a mink oil-based renovator cream. Primarily used for cordovan shoes, shoe polishing deer bones contain natural oils and are used to recompress the pores and fibers of the leather. This helps cover up scratches and scuffs while also providing some nourishment. Rub the bone against the shoe using small circular motions while applying light pressure. This should even out most rough spots. Brush with a horsehair brush or buff with a soft cloth. Now apply a thin film of your non-greasy, mink oil-based renovator cream and let dry for 10-20 minutes. Brush or cloth again.

Photo property of Alden

Photo property of Alden

To add some extra protection against water and dirt while restoring some colour, you can finish off with a tiny amount of pigmented cordovan cream or wax polish. Apply in thin layers using a cotton rag twisted tightly around your index and middle fingers. With a bit of pressure and small circular movements, work the product in all over the shoe. Brush to even out the coating and let dry for 10-20 minutes. Buff with nylon stockings or a piece of wool flannel, or brush using a soft bristled brush until achieving a satisfactory shine.

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