Frequently asked in our stores, the question regarding how to distinguish a leather called suede from a nubuck is interesting. Here’s the answer.
In addition to their soft appearance, these types of leather (called Suede in English) are distinguished by the way they are crafted
In order to understand what Suede is, let’s focus on the steps of leather finishing.
After tanning, the skin (putrescible and wet) becomes leather (rot-proof and dry) by fixating tanning agents. The leather is then slitted into two different parts: the “leather” (referred to as "cuir" in Figure 1) and the “crust” (referred to as "croûte de cuir").
Figure 1. Slitting process in "Le Cuir dans tous ses États" by Marie-Noëlle de Cagny (2011)
Let’s focus on the leather part which is the most noble and most used in the high-end industry. On this leather, the part on which was both the epidermis and the hair follicles is called ‘flower’. The verso on the other hand is called “flesh” because it was in contact with the crust before slitting.
Suede comes from the leather part and is located on the crust side.
Figure 2. Cross-section of a mammal skin from "Le Cuir dans tous ses États" by Marie-Noëlle de Cagny (2011)
Suede, compared to Nubuck, is generally brushed which makes it more textured and less thin. We can distinguish little filaments which are due to its treatment.
Figure 3. Macro on Suede from colourstock.fr
The nubuck comes from the upper part of the leather, called flower. This leather is finely sanded with an abrasive (fine sandpaper if this operation is performed manually) in order to obtain this unique appearance.
Figure 4. Macro on Nubuck from colourstock.fr
This sanding work is very delicate and does not give the opportunity to hide the possible imperfections of the polish. It takes a very high-quality skin to design a genuine nubuck leather.
The thickness of the skin is a very good indicator of quality: like smooth leather, there are several qualities of nubuck.
Contrary to public opinion, it is really easy to take care of Suede and it is suitable for rainy days. However, you should always keep in mind not to leave your shoes to dry near an artificial heat source but simply at room temperature with shoe-trees.
For the maintenance, you should first use a dust brush to remove the dirt accumulation. Then you will need to use a brass brush to “deluster” the leather.
Figure 5. Brass brush from Saphir
Indeed, hairs can pack and take a blackish aspect. A natural crepe brush can be used as a complement for this operation. However, this brush is really aggressive and shall be used only on the specific area. Finally, protect your shoes with a water-repellent spray such as the Super Invulner from Saphir.
Once a month, you can also proceed to a more thorough cleaning by using a cleanser and a renovator.
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