duped: real from faux, leather +horn, fur, shell, bone

Bernard Arnest

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
Hi,

I'm a hypocrite of a curious fashion. Science is my religion, yet I have a strange devotion to traditional arts and traditional materials-- while my peers in the arts long ago went digital, or are playing with LEDs and even holograms, I got a compressor, some chisels, and a block of marble (thankfully calcium carbonate is inert and washes out of my clothing with ease, though friends will comment on your gritty dandruff problem with all the dust in your hair!)

Now, I pride myself on owning "genuine" materials, and recognizing and appreciating them. Having been in these arts, I could spot the dead gloss of black plastic a mile away versus shellacked ebony, vinyl printed wood flooring is painful, and "cold cast" bronze and marble are so different in surface luster from patinated bronze and tin-polished marble that it's not even funny that some people are duped.

But I was seriously disturbed last week.

As my wallet gave out its last, shoddily-crafted gasp; I was... perhaps shocked, but not really; more accurately I suffered a deeply wounded pride-- not that it was fake leather, but that I failed to tell so! I knew that it was cheap, and poorly stitched, but it felt like real leather. Not until a major seam gave way and I saw the cloth reinforcing what was a very rubbery fake leather facade did I know the truth.
This destroys my world. If I, a principled materials traditionalist, can't even tell-- why should I care whether I have real or faux leather? It only matters if I can appreciate the quality of real leather; obviously if I can't discern the difference, then the genuine means nothing.

To make matters worse, when I saw the historic shoes at the MFA I initially thought that the super-thin, fabric-reinforced topgrain leather on some of the ladies' slippers looked fake. Obviously, no plastics in the 17th century, it had to be real....
Advice on telling?

In additional examples, I assumed that the buttons on a cashmere sweater of mine were plastic (aren't they always?), until a friend pointed out that they were cut mother-of-pearl buttons. It was a vintage sweater, left in my dorm basement for god-knows-how-long before I paid $.17 for it.
Now I'm wondering if the cashmere topcoat that was in the same abandoned suitcase might have real horn buttons? Plastics can duplicate that translucence very, very well. Is there a way to tell? Short of cutting into it, and seeing if the material properties are horn-like, or harder and more brittle like a plastic?

Or ivory keys from plastic ones on a piano (or an old ivory-looking handle; real or plastic, etc.).

Or real pearl, from some of the better fish-scale ones?

Or nylons from silk; if it doesn't say, how do I tell which the lining of a given overcoat is?

Or I was shopping on ebay for a persian lamb "ambassador/diplomat" hat, the style I finally settled upon for keeping my ears warm. I eventually paid $30 for one that had a label stating the material. But there was a second listing, where the seller had no idea if it was real or not. You know, if I had bought it, too, I wonder if I could have told the difference myself even with real and possibly-faux both in my hands?



Can you give me some pointers?
 
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Bernard Arnest

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
I also want to ask about two situations:

Shoe Horns: they are called shoe HORNS for a reason; but is horn, or bone, the best material just because it's traditional? Or is a silver one, as most of the ebay offerings are, much much more durable and less prone to splitting with use? This may be one example where modern plastics and metals are rather superior to the traditional.
btw; what are those lace/button hooks that come with the shoe horns used for? I can't quite figure out how I'd use one.


Also with regards to leather-- everything is topgrain. That's the strongest, most attractive, most abrasive-resistant and moisture-proof. Suede is softer, at best; without being very strong. I am surprised to see so many wallets, jackets, shoes, etc., made of very thin top grain-- where does all that suede go to?
And, while for a wallet or jacket sleeve, there are obvious concerns for thinness and flexibility respectively; why aren't all shoes made of much thicker leather? Sneakers, for example, are often heavily padded with just a thin layer of topgrain....
Unless cows are thinner-skinned than I'm assuming, and less suede is vanishing than I've imagined.

I'm also curious about the structure of leather. I just bought some used ostrich skin boots. I looked up the brand name-- they were $400 boots. Now, there's a light tear in the uppers that I've crudely stitched up to keep it from widening. For what I paid for these boots; no argument. But there is a strange detachment between a super-thin, shiny, brown-stained coating and, where the tear exposed the cross-section, what is cardboard grey and made of short fibers. Is this normal for leather; such a detachment between topgrain and the lower suede, or maybe normal for ostrich leather at least? Or despite the high retail sticker price and real ostrich lowers, the uppers might be plastic...?


thanks for the advice!
-Bernard
 

Bernard Arnest

Active Member with Corp. Privileges
OH-- btw, with all the pork sold in supermarkets, why is all leather either cow or rabbit, *maybe* sheep? Is pig unsuitable?

Or maybe there is a great deal of pig leather on the market, just not advertised as pig skin, merely "leather" and I've been assuming that it is cow.
 

sia

VP AAAC Corporate Benefits
As my wallet gave out its last, shoddily-crafted gasp; I was... perhaps shocked, but not really; more accurately I suffered a deeply wounded pride-- not that it was fake leather, but that I failed to tell so! I knew that it was cheap, and poorly stitched, but it felt like real leather. Not until a major seam gave way and I saw the cloth reinforcing what was a very rubbery fake leather facade did I know the truth.
This destroys my world. If I, a principled materials traditionalist, can't even tell-- why should I care whether I have real or faux leather? It only matters if I can appreciate the quality of real leather; obviously if I can't discern the difference, then the genuine means nothing.

I think you may have answered your own question. Natural materials tend to wear better and longer, some, such as leather, even gaining character with age. Avoiding disappointment such as this is certainly one reason why you should care whether you have real or faux leather. Another, more obviously, would be that you most likely wouldn't have had to replace the wallet so soon.

Genuine has meaning. The fact that you can't (yet) discern the difference is not a reflection that "genuine means nothing," it's an indication that you have more learning to do. Discerning real from fake is an art that takes some practice. Science can only help if you have the opportunity to actually apply it. I suspect that most retailers will have little tolerance for scientific inspection of the materials of their goods. :icon_smile_big:
 

omairp

Super Member
OH-- btw, with all the pork sold in supermarkets, why is all leather either cow or rabbit, *maybe* sheep? Is pig unsuitable?

Or maybe there is a great deal of pig leather on the market, just not advertised as pig skin, merely "leather" and I've been assuming that it is cow.

I believe pig leather in considered to be an inferior leather, and generally reserved for cheaper products. I know if you look at shoes from Aldo or kenneth cole or the ilk often you see the leather lining with tiny holes in it, sometimes in a tri-angular formation. I've been told this is indicative of pig skin. You will never find such in fine shoes, unless it's repackaged as "wild boar" skin.
 
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