Cordovan: Classic Leather, Classic Color - Part 1


Old florsheim advertisement

Color #8 is the classic cordovan color, but did you know that color #4 was the standard shell color throughout the 20th century? Our records show that Florsheim used color #4 shell from 1921 through the 1980s. 

 

Florsheim color #4 since 1921


Through the middle of the century, Florsheim Shoes bought color #4 shell cordovan, crafted their shoes, then finished the color to be darker and to resemble what we currently know as color #8. Florsheim became the classic look for American wingtip shoes with their incredible broguing details. 

Floresheim Shell Cordovan Wing Tip


These Alden shoes were also made during this same time period and are still being made and sold by Alden today. The photo below shows the extraordinary longevity of a shell cordovan shoe. Even after all these years the natural oils, waxes, and greases that were hand brushed (a process called currying) into the leather are still present. Notice how the classic Color #8 color is still easily recognizable! 

 

Alden Horween Shell Cordovan Longwing wingtips color 8


Today shell cordovan is more popular than ever. Color #8 has emerged as the most sought after classic shell cordovan color. Its popularity has caused Color #8 to be closely associated -- even synonymous -- with the color and the leather cordovan. 

 

Fat Herbie Color #8


The dual meaning of the word cordovan has caused some confusion. Not everything labeled cordovan is Genuine Horween Shell Cordovan and not everything labeled as color #8 or “cordovan” color has to be shell cordovan. Genuine Shell Cordovan is a leather made famous by Horween Leather Company in Chicago. Cordovan is also a ubiquitous color name since becoming a pantone color (Pantone 19-1726 TCX) and can be found as a descriptor of fabrics, paint, wood, and furniture. 


Often times this can become a confusing distinction for a consumer. Similarly to Cordovan being a leather and a color, Mahogany is also a wood type and a color. For example, you can have a guitar made from mahogany wood or have a piece of maple stained into a mahogany color. The word cordovan has experienced a similar evolution.

 

Mahogany Martin GuitarZoo

(image courtesy of themusiczoo.com)

Mahogany stained on maple


To best understand the distinction we should define what cordovan the leather is and what cordovan the color is. I’ll be writing another blog post soon where I’ll aim to clarify those differences.

 Below: Horween Color #8 Chromexcel (aka CXL) swatchbook

Color #8 Horween Chromexcel CXL

Below: A pile of Color #8 shell cordovan ready for final sort

Genuine Horween Shell Cordovan Color 8 #8

Below: G. Ortega painstakingly shaving shell cordovan liquor butts.

Shaving Horween shell cordovan leather

Below: Before and after a brush application of stain. Natural on the right and color #8 on the left.

Horween shell cordovan color 8 and natural before and after


1 comment


  • Nolan

    Incredible post! Keep them coming…


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