Cordovan leather comes from the shells (backside) of the horse. It has always been in short supply as a raw material and generally takes approximately six months to prepare. Add to this the fact that one horse can only provide enough leather for one pair of shoes and we begin to see how the higher cost is justified.
While these are all interesting tidbits of information, what you probably want to know is what qualities of this material should I be aware of before I spend all that money? Well, here are a few points that should be considered if you are thinking about a pair.
- Shell cordovan is denser, with tighter pores that other leather. This makes it better at repelling water.
- Cordovan is know for its longevity. It is said that a pair of cordovan shoes will ‘outlive’ the owner.
- Cordovan heats up more that other leathers. So probably not as comfortable for warmer temperatures (and warmer climates in general).
- Cordovan does not develop those fine crease lines like other leathers.
- Cordovan does not require much work to develop its characteristic shine which will only improve with time.
- Black cordovan shoes do not show off the nuances of the leather as well as the brown shades. (for example Alden’s Cigar and Ravello).
- Wax paste is recommended over regular polish for cordovan shoes.
- The colour associated with the name cordovan is a rich shade of burgundy .
While the number of producers of shell cordovan can be counted on one hand, perhaps the best know is Chicago-based Horween who happens to be the tannery that produces the lion’s share of this rare material (and has also done it for over 100 years).