Saffiano leather – yay or nay?

I love leather. The smell, the lustre, the suppleness of it, the irregular way it absorbs dye. Most of all, the way it feels to the touch.

As someone dedicated to the crafting of leather bags, the decision of why leather X over leather Y is one I make as often as a painter mixes pigments. Generally, those decisions have been guided by the above: leather feel, suppleness, smell, and look.

Which brings us to types of leather commonly used for bag making.

  1. Vegetable-tanned leather, tanned/dyed using plant-based dyes, can be expected to darken over time where it is touched the most, and generally just show use in an organic ‘aging’ manner that many of us associate with heirloom leather pieces. It is also usually the most expensive, because vegetable tanning is so time-intensive. The straps of some bags (Louis Vuitton’s Neverfull, etc) are made using vegetable-tanned leather.
  2. Chrome-tanned leather is tanned using chromium sulphate and some other chrome-based salts. It doesn’t discolor to the touch as easily as vegetable-tanned leather. Chrome tanning can be done relatively faster and in larger batches.
  3. Saffiano leather. Then there is Saffiano. It is leather that is not dyed, but coated over (in purple, blue, tan, or whatever color your bag comes in), with an opaque resin layer with a cross-hatch textured finish. So, even if the underlying leather is a pale cream color, you don’t see it unless the coating scratches off over time, which it tends to do on the corners that brush against hard surfaces. While Saffiano may have a synthetic-looking finish, it has the advantage of making the bag durable against elements like water, skin contact, and the sun (vegetable-tanned leather darkens gradually with exposure to these; chrome-tanned leather, much less so).

Saffiano doesn’t care about what tanning process is used, because you don’t get to see the leather — you only see the opaque cross-hatch coating applied over it.

Exclusively used by Prada for years, it has recently been used by other bag makers:  Michael Kors, DKNY, Tory Burch, and Coach. Longchamp is another bag maker increasingly using Saffiano for the leather bags in their line.

A bag made using Saffiano leather

Saffiano leather preserves its look for a long time, due to its coated surface. Still, it doesn’t give much of the joy of owning something that is leather — yes, along with the care that goes into making it last.

The most similar thing to Saffiano leather in terms of its finish is patent leather. I made a bag using patent leather in Minku‘s early days. I couldn’t justify using it for a leather brand if 4 out of 5 people were going to ask me if it was real leather or plastic/vinyl (patent leather is coated in a glossy lacquer). Whether for Saffiano or patent leather, the coating has the side-effect of masking leather’s identifying properties like its soft smell and natural surface texture.

Many ladies have a combination of leather bags in their collection: from Saffiano to lusher feel-me-smell-me leathers. Unless the bag style is an incredibly unique must-have, I would not advise spending a lot on a Saffiano bag because unlike other leather finishes, you must imagine that the leather is there without seeing it, interacting with it, or smelling it.


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10 thoughts on “Saffiano leather – yay or nay?

  1. Thank you for your informative post about the different leathers. I was especially interested in Saffiano leather. I don’t like it at all and would never buy a purse made of Saffaino. I think it looks like cheap plastic, not a rich-looking leather. It does not have the look, feel or smell that I love about leather. To me, I think it cheapens the look of the handbag, even the most expensive brands. It is resin-coated leather, and who would want to do that to beautiful leather, it’s like beauty contestants wearing coveralls to be judged in the competition. I think it it a way for manufacturers to use the less than perfect pieces of leather because they are going to cover it up anyway.

  2. That was a great article on most of the Leather qualities, though Saffiano looks great and is used by a lot of high end brands, it still is very low grade Leather and the embossing pattern on the top is used to hide the defects, with the aid of the loaded finish, but it is easy to use for it does not scratch and lay people really like that part of Leather

  3. Hi Annelou, you are right — Louis Vuitton’s Epi leather lines are finished using a similar coating process to Saffiano leather, that masks the leather’s properties. The one difference I see is that for several of the bags treated using an Epi finish, Louis Vuitton manages to maintain some softness to the leather. Saffiano coatings seem to result in a more rigid finish.

    Thanks again for your insight!

  4. I’ve got to chime in. I like and wanted a MK Jet Set Tote, but it looked cheap to me, and although I like the style, the leather looked manufactured, and it was a deal breaker. I bought a MK Pebbled Leather “wing” Tote, which feels and looks like Leather, and smells like it. My Fossil “wing” Tote is my casual tote, and it feels and looks great. I have Stone Mountain Saddle Leather Handbags for 20 years now, that are truly good leather. I use my MK for the pretentious acceptance in the professional world, but in real life, I am practical and quality driven. Once a brand is established, and the brainwashing has set in, caveat emptor.

  5. I love natural leathers, and own well over a dozen gorgeous bags, but Saffiano certainly has it’s place in my wardrobe. Saffiano can handle the rain! It also has a beautiful lit from within effect. It’s the bag I don’t have to dote over or worry about, and It always looks wonderful. I especially like Dooney’s Saffiano effect. It’s a soft cross hatch that you have to look closely to see. Mine bag has softened over time. I think it enables us to carry a beautiful bag without a care in the world- let it rain. You won’t see me running to shield my bag with an umbrella over it.Instead, I can dance in the rain.

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