Making Of: Horween Shell Cordovan Leather

It’s no mystery that I am a huge fan of raw, natural materials. The list is virtually endless. Just looking at cotton, copper, and cement, there is a huge array of different outlets for those materials whether in fashion, architecture, or something altogether removed. It’s truly amazing to see what different designers and craftspeople can do with such basic components.

Image courtesy of Ludwig Reiter

Image courtesy of Ludwig Reiter

In order to fully appreciate someone’s work, it’s important to understand why he or she chose to work in a given medium or tradition. I’ve mentioned it here and there, but in retrospect I’ve realized that I haven’t fully shared the process behind the much-coveted Shell Cordovan leather from Horween Tannery in Chicago. To do so, I tracked down a great (and succinct) film shot by Hiroki Nakamura of Visvim for their Spring/Summer 2010 shoe campaign. It was made during a visit to the tannery wherein Skip Horween outlines the process used to make produce each piece of Shell Cordovan.  Obviously that collection is old news by this point (though it’s still one of my favorites), but the video below is wonderfully informative and gives a great sense of what goes into Shell Cordovan leather. Check it out!

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Studio Visit: Emil Erwin

My hat is off to the makers of our time – the designers, entrepreneurs, and risk-takers who follow their passions across unknown territory. It takes some serious gusto to venture out on your own, and even more to not compromise your vision along the way. This is one of the many reasons that I so admire the work by Emil and Leslie Congdon.


Since 2009, the couple has owned and operated Emil Erwin – a luxury handmade leather accessories label out of Nashville, TN. The company has come a long way from its modest beginnings in their detached backyard garage. Now, working out of a beautiful studio in a trendy warehouse district, Emil Erwin produces a utilitarian line of leather goods with a persistent and uncompromising emphasis on quality – a characteristic that has been a staple of their work since day one.




Touring their studio gave me a much deeper appreciation for their work – especially being able to interact with the varying components that go into a given piece. But it was even more inspiring to sit down with Emil Congdon amongst his sewing machines and hand tools to discuss his work:

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Well-worn: Barrett Alley’s “Valerie” & “Bipartisan” Bracelets

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much on fashion accessories. Aside from neckwear, I almost don’t see the point. But when Barrett Alley contacted me about wearing two of his handmade leather bracelets, I decided that his workmanship was worth giving it a go.

Valerie Bracelet in Natural

Valerie Bracelet in Natural

Bipartisan Bracelet Reverse Shell Cordovan

Bipartisan Bracelet Reverse Shell Cordovan

I’ve been a fan of Barrett’s work for a long time now. For those of you who aren’t familiar, he and his wife Camélia handcraft a beautiful range of leather goods in their studio in Dallas, TX. For aesthetic and environmental reasons, they only source the best vegetable-tanned leather available – including the much-coveted Shell Cordovan from Horween in Chicago. Every now and then, they also work with custom bark-tanned, hunter harvested deer hides. Yet no matter which leather they use, Barrett Alley is well known for incorporating vintage materials like recovered Meiji era textiles or Civil War era buttons into their work. In other words, it’s a carefully curated and well-considered labor of love.

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(Literal) Case Study: Carrying Your Glasses

It makes no sense to buy a nice pair of sunglasses only to let them get scratched up. If you’re shelling out for your shades, you might as well get a handcrafted leather carrying case to keep them safe. Below are my top two you need to consider before making the jump. While they approach the case from two very different perspectives, they are both premium examples of true American craftsmanship.

1) Tanner Goods Sunglass Case

Tanner Goods – Sunglass Case Back Profile in Russet

Hailing from the Tanner Goods studio in Portland, Oregon studio, this case is cut, sewn, and finished completely by hand. Crafted from 4/5 oz. Horween Chromexcel leather, this case has enough cushion to keep your glasses safe while remaining malleable enough to conform to a variety of different frames. It is pictured in the gallery below in Natural, Russet, & Black but is also available in Olive, Havana, Tan, & Oxblood. Any of the seven different colorways are sure to develop striking contrasts in hue thanks to the tried and true 100+ year old tanning formula developed at Horween Tannery in Chicago.

2) Barrett Alley “Dom” Sunglass Case

Barrett Alley – Dom Case in Russet

The goods at Barrett Alley are all completely benchmade with an extreme attention to detail. This case uses one piece of domestically tanned leather, whether it’s shell cordovan from Illinois or straight bovine from Pennsylvania. Each case is lined with one of three antique textiles from America, France, and Japan – or is left well enough alone exposing the soft underside of the leather. As always it will develop character with use and abuse, just mind your glasses.

As always, scroll through the gallery for detailed images and different colorways:

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