Style Files

September 01, 2021

Leather 411 with Crest Leather

Learn all about leather and tanneries with our exclusive interview with Crest Leather!

Tandem Arbor is only able to provide the highest-quality custom furniture because of the crafts and trades people within the furniture manufacturing industry that are specialists at what they do. Without those that work tirelessly behind the scenes at perfecting their craft with each piece they create, we wouldn’t be able to deliver on our client’s furniture needs. To celebrate those that make the furniture industry go-round, we’re going behind the scenes and interviewing each of our trades in a new Style Files series. First up is our tannery, Crest Leather.

Crest Leather is the leading sustainable producer of the finest finished leather for high-end use in upholstery, hospitality, interiors and product design. To us, they manufacture all of the leathers that don our finished furniture pieces. Crest is the best of the best in this space. They’ve been in business since 1996 and have crafted some of the world’s most innovative looks by combining centuries-old Italian craftsmanship practices with pioneering technology and style.

We sat down with Lucio and Carla of Crest Leather to get the 411 on their process, what makes them unique and more. Get the low down by taking a peek at our in-depth conversation below:

Lucio, how did you get into the leather/tannery industry?

I was born into it. I’m originally from Argentina, but my great grandfather was an Italian tanner who immigrated to Argentina. He worked for a tannery in the beginning of his career then started his own business and since then, it has been passed down. I am the 4th generation of a family of tanners - I simply grew into it.

How was Crest Leather founded?

Crest Leather was established in 1996. We happen to be celebrating our 25th year in business this year. It’s a British company with our headquarters being in London. The name “Crest” was determined by the founder - he wanted a word that was inspiring and made people think of higher aspirations.

What is Crest Leather’s mission?

Simply put, the mission of Crest is to make leather available and affordable for every leather need out there (within upholstery).

How has the process changed over time?

Very good question. Look, leather has been with mankind forever. Leather was used before the wheel was invented, before fire was even discovered. Right now, leather is similar to the wine industry in the sense that you need technology, process, and engineering, but at the same time you need the hand and eye of the leather master - the person that knows what they are doing and has years of experience to guide everyone else. We work to strike a balance between all of those pieces - science, data, technology, vision and craftsmanship.

What is the difference between the tanneries in Italy, Brazil and Thailand?

The most important difference has to do with raw materials. There are leathers everywhere. The tanneries in Europe tend to use raw materials from Europe. The tanneries in the far East use raw materials from Australia. The main thing about Italy is that there is not just one or two tanneries - there is a conglomerate of them. You have tanneries, those that make machinery, chemical suppliers, etc. The north of Italy, is to the leather industry what Palo Alto is to tech - it’s that place that is full of talent and know-how. Why? Because there is a vibrant community to lean on with knowledge that dates back centuries - now, there are people like this all over the world, but the best come from Italy.

What are some of the old Italian craftsmanship practices they are continuing to do today?

The most important aspect that is still around today is the passion and detail-oriented approach to leather making. You find both of these throughout Italy and it makes it different... special. The level of scrutiny and perfection that we apply to leather making is unmatched. It really is an art, so our technicians have wound the history of it into the processes today.

Is leather sustainable? If so, why?

We should start by saying no animal is harmed or killed just for the use of their hide. Crest Leather plays a role in keeping hides out of landfills, which is a huge part of the sustainability story for leather. In fact, if you think about it, no animal has ever been killed for leather. It is always for the meat first. We are recycling something that would otherwise go to waste. Leather is a byproduct of the meat industry and by using it for other purposes, we are creating less waste.

What are the best ways to care for leather upholstered furniture?

That’s one of the great things about leather - it is very simple to care for. We suggest regular dusting. If you get a soil or spill, we suggest getting it up quickly with just a damp cloth - we advise against using any harsh chemicals that could harm the finish. There are also leather conditioners out there that are designed specifically for use on leather upholstery.

Not all leather is created equal (full-grain, split leather, etc). What are some important distinctions our customers should consider?

Crest only sells top-grain leather, which is the highest quality. It’s durable and able to withstand high-traffic areas. We tend to not go with splits as we prefer top-grain that will withstand the test of time. It’s worth noting that, by its own nature, leather is the most durable upholstery material there is. Leather will on its own withstand pretty much anything. You can have a leather sofa or chair for decades. We do encourage people to clean up the unit properly as keeping it up creates a lifetime of usage.

As leather is a natural product and each hide is unique, what are the benefits of the different hide types?

When you’re talking about raw materials you have two types - European or Brazilian. Brazilian cattle have a hump on the backs of their necks, so we split those so they can be laid flat. European hides are larger and don’t have the hump. If there is a really large panel that shouldn’t have seams, our manufacturers would opt for European due to size.

What leather is currently on-trend?

The performance collection, which is mostly done on Brazilian raw material. They are scratch resistant and stain resistant therefore great with homes that have kids and pets.

Do you think the performance leather trend will continue?

We believe it’s a trend that is here to stay. Last year we were forced to spend more time at home and we found ourselves spending a lot of time with our furniture. At this time we pushed ourselves to produce and supply performance leathers that are beautiful and that will age with time. We see how well that is working and more importantly, how happy consumers are with the new material. It’s here to stay.
There is no special formulation to make them performance, either, they are just intrinsically of performance quality based on the raw material and how they are manufactured at the tannery.

What is the most luxurious type of leather for a sofa?

It would be one of our natural, aniline dyed leathers. They are most requested by manufacturers that do upscale furniture. They tell the story of where the cow has been with fat circles, natural defects, etc.

What are the different dying and tanning processes for a sofa?

There are different ways to get our leather tan. What we do is focus on upholstery leather. We want a leather that is durable, but that also pleases the senses. We are producing in a large scale and we found that aniline dying and chrome tanning the hides are the best processes for us. Chrome is one of the most sustainable and safe ways to tan leather.

What are some factors to look for in a leather that will look truly authentic? How do you know whether leather is authentic or not?

Anything that goes in front of the word “leather” like “eco-leather”, “vegan-leather”, is not leather. Real leather is just leather. We would recommend consumers ask what they’re dealing with. And quite simply, just touch it. If you are touching real leather, you will like it and if we put something next to it that isn’t real leather, you will know. The price point is also a big indicator.

As stated, the process of manufacturing leather is truly an art form that dates back centuries. When you order a leather piece from Tandem Arbor, you not only are receiving an authentic, high-quality product, you’re also receiving the history and expertise of the craftsmanship of those at Crest Leather. There is a story behind each leather piece of furniture and after you receive it, that story continues on with you. Are you ready to design the perfect leather piece for your home? Check out our free swatches or chat with a Tandem Arbor furniture stylist to get started!

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