Leather - Real or Fake?

Recently we finished a project for a customer who wanted some leather and oak dining chairs. Unfortunately they approached the question with a price of £50 per chair in mind - at this price of course one won't be getting real leather or even real oak!

Sadly mass advertising has set false expectations - a leather sofa for £299; leather dining chairs for £50 - really!!Rolls of real upholstery leather

This set me thinking. How would I convince this customer that what he was considering was not 100% leather, or even bi-cast or split leather.  Here are my tips for him...

1) check the label & paperwork. Genuine leather will say that it is so. Imitation products should not - but of course a fraudster won't have qualms about mis-representation. If a chair has a warning about keeping cigarettes away then it's likely to be synthetic.. Phrases such as faux leather, split leather, permeable leather, bi-cast, plether, leatherette, naugahyde, ultrasuede, poromeric, corfam and leather cloth all mean that you are not looking at the real thing.

2) ask the saleperson. This is not always reliable. Many sales staff may mis-represent to get a sale, or they may just not know the details of a particular product.

3) feel the fabric. Fake leather has an artificially smooth, often plastic feel to it. Depending on the type and quality of leather, real leather can range from coarse to silky smooth. But the texture will generally be less consistent than fake. If a full thickness hide has been used it will actually feel quite warm to the touch.

4) smell it. Real leather has a distinctive smell. Unfortunately, rumour has it that unscrupulous manufacturers are infusing fake products with "eau de leather" scent!

5) burn it. I'd be very concerned if one of our customers tried this on one of our leather chairs, but this test will really distinguish between leather and plastic. Real leather scorches into a certain shade and texture, and it should emit an odour much like scorched hair. Fakes will scorch like plastic with the associated chemical smell.

6) visit the factory/workshop. We welcome customers at our UK factories to see the materials used, so there is no ambiguity when you see the original leather hides. But if the furniture you are looking at is made somewhere in the Far East you'll have to rely on trust...

7) zoom in with a magnifying glass. Real leather has a natural random layout of pores like pores in your skin. Synthetic material will most likely have a discernable pattern repeat to its fake patterning. Whole hide leather will also feature natural blemishes and scars in the leather.

8) check the price. If the price seems unfeasibly low then it is doubtful that the chair has ever been near a real hide.

I should really stress that I have nothing against synthetic leather products - as long as they are not masquerading as something they are not. I know people who don't want leather in their home for ethical reasons, but they can still convincingly recreate the look.

Meanwhile if you want upholstery to last a generation and to absorb and reflect its usage and loving care then nothing beats the finest leather hides.

Posted by Steve Whitt


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