Leather used in luxury goods often has qualities that make it useful for a lot of designs. Epi leather is strong, durable, and looks great.
Epi leather is a style of pressed leather. It is made by stamping a pattern into vegetable tanned leather that is dyed, and finished with a water resistant, protective coating. Its characteristic look is a horizontal, textured pattern. Epi leather is most often used in Louis Vuitton handbags.
This leather has a rich history, dedicated following, and can be used in a variety of leather goods. Let’s take a deeper look.
What is Epi Leather
Epi leather is a term used to refer to vegetable tanned leather that has been stamped with a textured pattern. Vegetable tanned leather is produced by using natural plant extracts to process raw hides into finished leather.
Epi leather is most often made from calfskin. Calfskin is leather from young cows. It is usually very smooth, supple, and soft to the touch. This type of leather usually has a pattern stamped into it resembling textured, horizontal lines. This texture creates both an unique visual pattern, as well as a special feel when held and touched.
Often, Epi leather is dyed vibrant colors. Some are more matte, or muted as referenced as “Classic Epi Leather”. Others have more of a polished, shiny finish, referred to as “Electric Epi Leather” It is finished with a coating that makes it water and scratch resistant. This results in a leather that looks great, performs well, and is scratch resistant.
The History of Epi Leather
Louis Vuitton, a Frenchman living in Paris, open the Louis Vuitton store in 1854. It sold quality trunks and luggage, that were becoming more popular as leisure travel by ship became commonplace. In 1892, Louis Vuitton’s son, Georges Vuitton, took over the company.
Epi leather gets its inspiration from a 1926 custom tea case. Georges received a request from an Indian customer for a custom piece. The customer was the Maharajah of Baroda, royalty of an Indian state. He wanted a travel case trunk so he could enjoy tea anywhere.
Georges designed a tea case trunk. Covering it was a fine leather with a grain pattern stamped into it. This grain pattern would inspire the look/feel of Epi leather.
In 1985, the Louis Vuitton company introduced Epi leather. This was the first line of leather goods they offered, and this was the first type of leather they used. Initially, it was comprised primarily of handbags. Since it’s launch Epi leather has become a Louis Vuitton staple, the pattern synonymous with the brand. The original colors available were:
- Borneo Green
- Castillian Red
- Kenyan Fawn
- Kouril Black
- Toledo Blue
- Winnepeg Sable
Leather in the Epi style is available from leather wholesalers and retailers in a variety of colors. For a leather crafter looking to make a quality piece, this type of leather is definitely a consideration.
How is Epi Leather Made?
Epi leather is usually made through a process of tanning, dyeing, and finishing.
How is Epi Leather Made?
|Step 1: Tanning||The leather to be used is prepared. This involves all the steps in the leather tanning process to make it ready for commercial use. Generally, calfskin hides are used. A natural, vegetable tanning process is often utilized to produce a quality leather.|
|Step 2: Dyeing||Once tanned, the leather is dyed to introduce one of many vibrant colors. Often, colors can be signature colors of brands. They might vary by year, or by season. Louis Vuitton has introduced many colors for Epi leather over the years. Even when purchasing leather from wholesalers, Epi leather is usually available in 16+ different colors.|
|Step 3: Pressing||Once dyed, the leather is now run through machines that have large, metal plates. The plates are etched in reverse with the Epi pattern. This is so when they pass the pattern into a material, it will look as desired. Think of this like the dies used to make coins, they’re cut in reverse, so when they strike the metal, a properly-oriented coin surface comes out.|
The Epi pattern is a textured, horizontal pattern. It runs in horizontal lines across the plates. The plates, with tremendous force, are then pressed into the leather, leaving its permanent shape in the material.
|Step 4: Finishing||Now that we have a colored, and textured leather, it needs to be finished. This is where some of the great qualities of Epi leather are added. Usually, a clear, protective finish is applied. The finish helps to protect the leather underneath, and also leaves a surface that is scratch and water resistant.|
Other finishes or layers can be added as well, underneath the top layer. They might be to add a visual effect, such as a soft shine. Or, be a particular color or translucency that interacts pleasingly with the colored leather underneath it.
Working With Epi Leather
Epi leather is a soft leather that can be moulded, stamped, or sewn. This makes it great for many applications including in bags, wallets, and accessories.
When sewing by machine, generally an industrial machine is recommended. It will produce clean stitch lines and be able to handle the leather thickness.
Working with the textured pattern will take a little practice. With some experience, it will be easier to understand how the texture affects creases, stitch lines, and edges. Then, one will be able to successfully produce some really incredible, long-lasting pieces.
What is Epi leather used for?
Epi leather is most commonly known for use in the Louis Vuitton line of leather goods. These generally include handbags, wallets, card holders, document cases, key holders, totes, backpacks, and notebook cases. Some of the most popular Louis Vuitton handbag styles are the:
- Petite Noe
If you’re looking to craft leather goods from Epi leather, any of the above types of leather goods would be suited well to the material. Also, one could try making briefcases, phone cases, portfolios, or a number of small accessories.
What does Epi Leather Feel Like?
Epi leather has a soft, textured feel to it. It is generally smooth and flexible. this type of leather is durable and sturdy, yet due to the textured pattern and surface finish, it’s pliable and water resistant. Overall, quite a unique blend of form, feel, and function.
The Qualities of Epi Leather
Epi leather has some unique material characteristics to it. Here is a look at some features and benefits:
Epi Leather Qualities
|Durable||The protective finish is strong, allowing handbags and wallets to withstand the abrasion from daily carry and use. Epi leather usually does not crack or chip. It might soften over time with use and flexing, which can be a preferable trait.|
|Low-Maintenance||With a protective finish, less dirt and grime adhere to the surface. So, it needs to be cleaned less often.|
|Water Resistant||The surface finish provides a water-resistant top surface. A splash or some rain generally rolls right off of Epi leather.|
|Scratch Resistant||The textured pattern itself resists more obvious scratching, while also making any minor scratches less noticeable. The protective finish provides a good barrier here so the surface usually always looks good.|
|Easy to Clean||The surface finish also makes Epi leather easy to clean. Some leathers require proper preparation, cleaning, and conditioning. Epi leather can usually be cleaned with a damp cloth, or if preferred a specialized Epi leather cleaner.|
Where to Get Epi Leather
If you’re looking to get Epi leather to use on a project, it is generally available from leather supply houses and companies. It will be important to know what color you want before you buy. Options might also include the thickness/weight of the leather.
Generally, Epi leather has a smooth side, and a textured side stamped with the horizontal pattern.
Epi Leather vs Saffiano Leather
These are two similar types of leather, though they also have their differences. Both are used in luxury handbag and accessory products. Both have a stamped pattern with a finished surface.
However, a main difference is that Saffiano leather usually has the texture pressed into a synthetic material that is layered on top of the real leather. Epi leather has the textured surface stamped right into the real leather. This makes it a little softer and more flexible.
Both have a protective surface finish applied. Saffiano leather might have multiple layers, including synthetic material, color, and various finishes to give it the desired look and wear characteristics. Epi leather generally has fewer protective elements. It still performs well by being water and scratch resistant, though provides a softer feel and visual appearance of the natural leather.
Saffiano leather and Epi leather and both highly valued types of leather in the luxury handbag and leather goods market. Prada is most famous for Saffiano leather, while Louis Vuitton is most famous for Epi leather.
For a detailed look at Saffiano leather, click here to read an article that I wrote about it.
Epi Leather Care & Maintenance
It is important to properly clean and maintain all leather goods. Since they are natural fibers, keeping the surfaces clean and restoring/conditioning them when needed will help them stay strong and looking great.
One thing to keep in mind: for any step in leather care, generally test on a small area to ensure the cleaner or finish that you are applying will not react poorly with the material. Once you know it’s safe, clean away 🙂
How to Clean Epi Leather
Due to it’s finished surface, Epi leather can be cleaned gently with a wet cloth. Ensure the cloth doesn’t have loose fibers and lint that could transfer to the bag. A microfiber cloth could work well. Also, test in a small area first to make sure the cloth will not transfer any color to the bag’s surface.
If the bag or wallet needs additional cleaning, a very soft bag brush can be used to help loosen dirt and grime. Wet it slightly and work it over the leather, being careful not to press to hard. The bristles of the brush should be doing most of the work. After this step, going over it with a damp cloth can help clean off any remaining dirt/dust. Let the bag dry off before using or storing.
If what you are trying to clean goes beyond dust/grime, and is a stain from something, additional care might be needed. First, consider what type of stain it is. Knowing the substance can help determine what the best method to clean it is. If it is something common, and gently cleaner might work.
If it’s something more significant, look into cleaners made specifically for Epi leather. They will be made to treat the stain while helping to maintain the surface finish. As with most cleaners, always test in a small, non-noticeable spot first to ensure it will not discolor the bag. Definitely don’t want to make a second stain while trying to clean the first 🙂
How to Condition Epi Leather
Since Epi leather has a protective surface finish, it doesn’t need to be conditioned. And functionally, it really can’t. The surface finish protects the leather underneath. It also serves as a barrier that conditioner can not penetrate.
Thankfully though, the protective surface makes it’s very easy to clean with a damp cloth. This is an easy way to always keep Epi leather products looking great.
However, if over time the surface finish wears off, exposing the leather underneath, it will need to be conditioned like more other leathers. Generally, this involves applying a wax, oil, or cream onto the surface and letting the leather absorb it in. When conditioned, the leather is more supple, flexible, resistant to scratches, and feels better in the hand.
Once the surface has been thoroughly cleaned, the conditioner can be applied using an applicator or soft cloth. Conditioner is generally applied in small circles, allowed to soak in, then the excess wiped off with a clean, lint-free cloth.
A protective finish can be applied at this stage, if preferred. The benefit is it will help the leather be a bit more water and scratch resistant, like it was with the original finish. Test any conditioner first before using it, to ensure if will react well with the piece.
How to Fix a Scratch on Epi Leather
Fixing a scratch on Epi leather can be easy. The top layer is often a clear, protective coating. If there is a scratch that goes into the leather below and discolors a section, the method to fix it depends on the size.
If it’s a small scratch (not a hole all the way through), applying a tiny bit of acrylic paint (matching in bag color) could work. A toothpick could be used, or anything with a fine point that will transfer the paint. The acrylic paint will be flexible when dried, allowing for natural movement of the bag without the paint cracking.
For anything but a small scratch, or if it’s a hole, the bag might need to be repaired. consider bringing it to a local leather shop for their assessment on what might be the best fix.
Since Epi leathers are natural and have a factory-applied finish, the surface can’t always be easily replicated. So a creative solution or two will work well here. It might involve repairing the hole in the leather, ensuring the color matches, then applying a new surface finish.
Fear not though! There’s usually a way to make it look great and have the bag/wallet/purse back in full working order.
How to Store Epi Leather
Epi leather should be stored in a cool, dry, dust-free location. Generally, leather products benefit from low-average humidity environments. Air flow is also beneficial, as it allows the natural fibers of the leather to “breathe”.
If kept in a sealed environment, the humidity might rise and the leather start to deteriorate, and mold. In an environment with too-low humidity, the leather can start to dry and that could lead to cracking and weakening of the fibers.
A good place to store Epi leather is a dressing room or closet that have an average livable temperature, humidity level, and frequent airflow. Some leather goods come with storage bags. They’re usually a breathable fabric that helps keep cut off. Storing it in one of these can be a great choice if available.
When considering leather to buy, in a finished product or as a material to craft your own piece, the characteristics of the leather are very important considerations. Eli leather has a classic look, feel, and durability that make it worth a look when evaluating leather types for your next project.
Is LV Epi leather durable?
Yes, LV Epi leather is very durable. It is created with a textured, horizontal pattern design that helps resist abrasions and scratches. It also has a protective coating that make it water resistant and generally very easy to clean with a damp cloth.
What is Epi leather made of?
Epi leather is made from vegetable tanned calfskin. This is a natural leather tanned with natural plant tannins. The result is a very soft, supple, leather that’s quite durable. It generally looks great over time and is suitable for everyday use.