Understanding leather & vegan leather

This blog is designed to give you a much greater understanding of automotive leather. We have fallen down the rabbit hole and retrieved all the information, so you don't have to...


It’s no secret that your leather will dry, crack and fade over time if it’s not properly cared for. Thankfully lots of great brands have taken this into consideration and created a selection of products & methods to help you keep your luxury leather in fantastic condition!


Why does leather crack and fade over time if not properly cared for?


All leathers will dry and crack over time if not properly cared for, but in the more recent years car leathers have advanced rapidly in how they are dyed, painted and protected.


Picture an old Bentley with the finest top-grain semi-aniline leather. It’s factory fresh and looking incredible. Two years go by and you can see the leather across the dash is starting to get ever so slightly tighter. You don’t think much of it, another three years go by without treatment and all of a sudden the leather is looking very tight on the dash and it is pulling considerably. One more hot summer goes by and the leather pigments are starting to crack and it’s looking very worn...


This is all thanks to the sun’s heat & UV rays, causing the accelerating deterioration of the leather which is rapidly changing its spritely appearance. That’s because all of the natural oils, proteins and collagens are breaking down over time leaving the leather looking lacklustre. The main component of leather is collagen, there are more than 28 different types of collagen existing in leather and just like our skin, leather needs to be looked after in order to keep it in great condition.


Oxidisation & hydrolysis are the two main causes of the deterioration of leather. Be careful of harsh oils, liquids, UV, and heat.


Why does some leather have texture and others not?


Let’s take two examples, Audi has smoother leather in appearance and to the touch, whereas Aston Martin has blemishes running throughout, almost like you can see the cows skin and the life it’s lived without perfect symmetry. Aston Martin definitely has the highest quality full-grain leather.


Audi is less likely to be using a full-grain leather but rather split-grain from the cattle they choose from Europe, as there are fewer blemishes and it’s very smooth, with a consistent texture. This is known as corrected grain leather. Corrected grain leather is heated, heavily protected and embossed to give the impression of top grain full aniline leather.


We have personally never seen a modern ( year 2015+ ) Audi leather dye fail or have wear marks, indicating it has thick protectants and painted layers. This is a perfect example of when modern advanced leather protectants come into great use, but the flip reverse is we are starting to move away from the luxury of the pure form. It’s a balance and the leather is made with the intentions of the use of the car.


Aston Martin leather...we absolutely love it!


Aston Martin chooses, and I’m sure pay a pretty penny, to use Highland Cattle hide, supplied by Bridge Of Weir situated west of Glasgow. You have a dizzying array of choices when fitting out your dream machine thanks to the partnership with arguably the worlds best hide suppliers.


The reason they choose Highland Cattle is that they are well protected from the elements with incredibly thick hair that is long and oily. These majestic beasts boast the longest hair of any cattle breed. I’m surprised they don’t call them scotch-cow. To put it simply the long, oily, thick hair protects the hide underneath giving it an incredible full grain natural texture with very little scarring from insect bites, branding or bruising. We could only imagine every luxury car brand across the globe would love to use this top grain leather.


If you have driven the north coast 500 you will appreciate just how stunning these animals are standing on the west coastline of the highlands just on from Applecross braving the bitter winds and heavy weather fronts. It’s important to note that leather is a by-product of the meat industry and we are not killing these majestic animals in vein purely for our luxury leather.


The new leather smell


The new leather smell is natural and earthy! It will differ from car brand to brand as some manufacturers will choose to use much harsher processes, protectants and dyes on the leather that can affect the smell and or reduce the natural amount of smell breaking through the protective and painted layers.


We all wish we could keep that new leather smell but sadly it will fade over the months and years however good leather care will keep it for longer.


We are in luck as you can choose from a selection of products that will add the leather scent back into your car. Chemists are incredible at what they do and they have advanced fragrances that are so amazing, that it's hard to tell a natural scent from artificial scent. If you want to retrieve the leather smell via products they will differ massively in quality - so check before you apply any products or scents. Balms with added scents are a great way of bringing that leather smell back for a new car fresh feeling.


Different types of leather


Pure Aniline - Aniline leather is a type of leather dyed exclusively with soluble dyes without covering the surface with a topcoat paint or insoluble pigments. This is the purest form of leather and absorbs moister very easily. It needs to be treated with a high amount of care.


Semi-aniline leather - This sits between Pure Aniline and pigmented leather, offering chartists from both. The protection isn’t so thick that it detracts from the leather needing to apply a pattern but equally offers some forms of artificial protection.


Pigmented Leather ( protected leather ) – The most common & most durable leather, that’s fully painted and protected. The leather may be buffered and sanded to remove scaring, branding & veining then a new texture may be applied to give the impression of natural top grain leather. This is easily visible in the BMW models roughly dating 2000 - 2015 with an almost perfect leather pattern. This is a split-grain embossed ( bottom of the split ) rather than a top grain semi or full aniline leather.


To understand automotive leather, we need to understand the protection and paint applied from the tannery...