I have often joked that there is something about Hermès leathers, much like the world’s most addictive drugs, that get women (well, me at least) high. The scent of Hermès leather is like no other, and once you catch a whiff, you only want more. Unsurprisingly, their exotic skins are even more intoxicating.
Yes, I am fully aware (as many of you pointed out after a recent article) that Birkins are everywhere, thoroughly ubiquitous thanks to our digital age and the social media that accompanies it. But not to fret: the true Hermès connoisseur collects more than the ever-prevalent Birkin. There’s the Kelly, Constance, Evelyne, Medor, Lindy, and many other stars in the Hermès bag family worthy of collecting; not to mention the house’s scarves, shoes, ready-to-wear, china, jewelry, notebooks, briefcases, photo albums, blankets…the list goes on! A true Hermès addict collects (or hoards, depending on how you look at it) it all.
But I digress. This is an article about Hermès leather, a guide that will hopefully help you when deciding on your first Hermès bag purchase – or be read for the sake of kicks and sounding fashion-smart to your friends. Hermès has very strict guidelines for their leathers; they source only the best materials available and don’t hesitate to discontinue a piece altogether if it’s not up to the big H standard. I have visited the atelier and witnessed firsthand that no scrap of leather goes to waste, they’re up-cycled to Petit H, a collection of goods made of left over Hermès materials.
Fun fact: the reason Hermès elected orange for their packaging is that after World War II, orange dye was plentiful, and it was also cheap. While Chanel and Dior were opting for black and white, respectively, Hermès went with offbeat bright orange because they are just quirky like that. Ironically, this happy accident made for the most iconic packaging shade of all. It’s instantly recognizable; it’s unmistakable. Thank God they saved orange because Halloween has certainly ruined it for me. But from butter-soft Clemence leather to hard, structured Box calf to the most decadent of decadent alligator, it’s really not an issue of color when it comes to Hermès. It’s all about the skin, craftsmanship, and yes, the scent.
This is, by far, my favorite exotic. Hermès uses Alligator Mississippiensis, which is farmed in Florida and often used to make the brand’s smaller bags. Alligators have umbilical scars that are frequently featured in the accessories’ designs to highlight authenticity (you can identify an alligator Hermès bag specifically with its blind stamp – a square). The scales aren’t as uniform as those of crocs; alligators have rectangular scales in the middle and smaller, oval scales along their sides, creating, what I feel, is a more unique look.
Ficelle Shiny Alligator Mini Kelly Pochette (on Portero for $32,750)
While delicate and easily scratched, Barenia’s smooth, matte texture makes for a most dreamy leather, one that is commonly used with white top stitch. If you can find any bag made of this, grab it and run!
Natural Barenia Retourne Kelly 32 Fauve (on Fashionphile for $7,950)
Named for 1890s English shoe craftsman Joseph Box, this stiff calfskin is the oldest type of Hermès leather out there. I have some Box bags made in the ’70s that have developed a gorgeous patina and shine!
Box Birkin 35 Noir Black (on Fashionphile for $9,500)
Soft, water-resistant water buffalo stands apart for its unusual ability to absorb dye the most in the center of its rough grain.
Birkin 45 (on The RealReal for $9,000)
The matte version of Box calfskin, this leather is often used for the underside of belts and jewelry.
Birkin 30 (on The RealReal for $8,500)
Chevre de Coromandel
It costs a bit more than cow leathers, but goatskin is one of my favorites! Most of my non-exotic Hermès wallets are made from Chevre (the material is textured, and therefore, harder to scratch – a good quality in something you’re digging around your bag to find). Lightweight and durable, bags made entirely of this leather are rare. There are two kinds of Chevre – de Coromandel and Mysore. The former comes with a spine down the center, but as of Spring 2008, it has also been released in “Souple,” which has a less visible spine.
White Bus Tote (on The RealReal for $1,995)
First released in 2002, this Chevre has more of a grain than de Coromandel, but less of a spine.
Chevre Mysore Bolide 27 Cyclamen (on Fashionphile for $6,450)
This soft, grained calfskin is lightweight and can therefore end up looking slouchy if too much is carried in the bag (for reference, my friend once referred to her Clemence Birkin as flaccid…so there’s that).
Blue Hydra Clemence 30 cm Birkin Bag (on Malleries for $21,900)
This embossed, easy-to-clean leather has been replaced by Epsom.
Courchevel Bolide 31 (on The RealReal for $3,400)
As Courchevel’s replacement, this leather holds its shape well and doesn’t scratch easily, but don’t apply any leather stickers on Epsom. I learned firsthand that the stamped grains don’t take kindly to sticky glue.
Blue Paradis Jaune Canari Epsom Bicolor Birkin 35 (on Portero for $22,999)
This soft, smooth version of Box calf has a slight shine, but no visible grain.
Gold Evercalf Bolide 31 (on Gilt for $5,000)
Prone to scratching your bag? Such marks on the embossed version of Evercalf are easily buffed out.
Black Evergrain Leather Birkin 35cm Bag (at Bella Bag for $13,499)
If you prefer a relaxed look, this is the perfect skin. It’s scratch-resistant and very durable, so much so that it’s often used to make large bags since they’re expected to handle more wear and tear.
Kelly Retourne 35 (on The RealReal for $6,500)
Released in 2012, this processed calf leather comes stamped with crosshatch embossing.
Grain d’H MM blank Pad (at Hermès for $60)
Suede comes in and out of favor with the House of Hermès. Depending on what they’re able to source, it still shows up here and there.
Grizzly Birkin 35 (on The RealReal for $10,000)
This leather was discontinued in 1999 and replaced by Swift.
Café Brown Gulliver Birkin 35 cm Bag (at Belle & Clive)
While temporarily unavailable at Hermès, Varanus water monitor lizard is a nice alternative to croc if you can find it. Identified by the – or = blind stamps (signifying Niloticus and Salvator lizard, respectively), this skin requires great care, as the scales may dry out if not tended to properly.
Mini Kelly 20 Handbag Rouge H Lizard (on Malleries for $16,990)
Released in 2007, this adult bull calf is water-resistant and mostly used for Garden Party bags.
Negonda Garden Party 36 MM Orange (on Fashionphile for $2,495)
Farmed in the Nile region of Zimbabwe, the Niloticus crocodile has a slightly larger scale pattern than that of the Porosus (mentioned below). It’s available in shiny or matte, and can be identified by the•• blind stamp.
Emerald Shiny Nilo Crocodile Birkin 30 cm (on Portero for $109,000)
Farmed in South Africa, ostrich skin will darken in appearance from hand contact or lighten when exposed to light. Each of the spots from which a quill was plucked is individually hand-pounded for a smoother feel.
Ostrich Birkin 35 Orange (on Fashionphile for $18,500)
Peau Porc (Discontinued)
This lightweight pigskin is no longer produced due to the controversial nature of using pigskin.
Bolide 31 (on The RealReal for $3,000)
Pony Hair (Discontinued)
Pony hair is an uncommon treat in the world of Hermès, especially now that it’s discontinued.
Birkin Troika HAC Black Evercalf and Pony Hair with Gold Hardware 32 (on Portero for $12,360)
Farmed in Australia and Southeast Asian countries like Singapore, Porosus crocodile has a fine, symmetrical scale pattern. It’s available in shiny (skins are buffed with a stone until they develop a sheen) or matte, both of which are identifiable by the ^ blind stamp.
Vintage Crocodile Constance 23 (on The RealReal for $12,500)
As cool as this sounds, once you run out of the wipes given to you to keep the rubber pliable, the material will crack, and there’s no fixing it.
Amazonia Garden Party MM (on The RealReal for $1,795)
Formerly known as Gulliver leather, Swift has a fine grain, which absorbs dye well, making it ideal for brightly-colored designs. Note, though, that is does scratch easily and requires maintenance.
Vert Anis Swift Leather 35 cm Birkin Bag (on Malleries for $11,900)
While not quite as delicate, Tadelakt is similar to Box skin in that it’s smooth and can get scraped-up if you’re not careful. Personally, I don’t mind marks; they give a bag character. One of my French friends once told me that her mother stomps on her new Birkins in the grass to avoid looking nouveau riche.
Tadelakt Leather Bolide 31 Shoulder Bag (on Reebonz for $8,267)
Then again, some women prefer the look of perfection. This grained calfskin is popular since it doesn’t scratch easily.
Crevette Pink Togo 30 cm Birkin Bag (on Malleries for $18,900)
Only available in natural and black, this untreated, delicate cowhide will develop a patina over time.
Vache Natural Sac a Depeche Briefcase (on The RealReal for $4,095)
This stiff cowhide is used primarily as trim for bags like the Etriviere and Herbag.
Brown Canvas and Natural Vache Hunter Leather Etriviere Shopping Tote Bag (on Yoogi’s Closet for $1,075)
Released in 2002, Vache Liegee is the thickest and most durable of Hermès’ leathers.
Natural Veau Liegee Birkin 40 cm Bag (at Bella Bag for $10,099)
Vachette Grainee de Ardennes (Discontinued)
This processed, pressed leather has been replaced by Vache Liegee. The sturdy skin was made from a male calf raised in the Ardenne region, which encompasses Northern France to Southern Belgium.
Birkin 40 (on The RealReal for $9,000)
Veau Grain Lisse (Discontinued)
Discontinued in 2003, this slightly-thin, embossed leather is scratch-resistant and somewhat shiny.
Birkin 35 cm Camel Brown Veau Grain Lisse Leather Hand Bag (on Portero for $13,999)
This soft leather tends to lose its shape, so it’s used for silhouettes that can handle that, such as the Double Sens tote and the “Relax” versions of the Bolide and Kelly.
Double Sens 36 Veau Sikkim (on 1stdibs for $3,795)
Vibrato is composed of stacked leather (created by applying pressure to strips of smooth and suede leather). The style is very rare – and also hard to maintain.
Evelyne Barenia Vibrato (on Malleries for $2,500)