Ask the Shopkeeper
When trying to understand the difference between top-grain, bonded, suede, corrected-grain, genuine, and full-grain leather, the topic can get quite confusing.
Confusion comes when a company tries to sell the benefits of the leather they use even though it may be an inferior approach for the specific product.
We will give it to you straight so you can make an informed choice.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that leather comes from an animal. (Although there have been developments in bioengineered and mushroom leather. See our article on the History of Leather.)
Animals live outside, rub up against fences, get bitten by bugs, fight with others in their herd, and roll around on the ground to scratch their backs.
When leather gets processed and the hair is removed, all evidence of an easy or rough life shows up as scars, scrapes, and general imperfections. Which, affect the quality grade of a hide.
We will start at the top of the chain when it comes to grading a hide, full-grain.
If the hide is a blemish-free hide, the very best (in our opinion) way to use the leather is full grain. Full-grain leather simply means that the hair is removed and the hide goes immediately into the tanning process.
Why do we feel this is the best way to use the hide?
All of the oil-absorbing properties and original characteristics of the leather remain intact. The leather will patina and endure over time.
Full-grain leather is stronger and more durable. A bag will get more oohs and ahs after ten years of use from this type of leather.
The leather has not been sanded or buffed to remove any marks. The entire thickness of the skin is used.
Highest quality products like furniture, footwear and luggage tout full grain.
You may pay a little higher price for products made with full-grain leather, but the item will survive the rigors of age and travel much better than other grades.
The second-highest-quality leather is top-grain leather.
This leather is probably the most used leather in handbags, where a pristine look is desired. The leather is named top grain because the very top layer is sanded, buffed or shaved off.
Shaving off the top layer can also be referred to as splitting leather.
There are many reasons to split the leather. One being to start with a fresh top surface for a variety of finishes to be applied.
Another is to make the leather thinner and more workable for certain applications.
The stamping of textures and faux finishes of alligator, snake, and ostrich are often applied to cow hides prepared as top grain. This can also be considered “corrected-grain” leather.
Top-grain leather is still appropriate for luxury goods.
But, know that the durability, and the future patina of the leather, has been compromised by affecting the top most layer of the skin.