There are so many useful leather types available for projects, depending on what you’re making. Saffiano leather offers some great qualities for everyday wear and use.
Saffiano leather is a style of pressed leather. It is made by pressing a pattern into the leather’s surface, then coating it with a protective finish. Its characteristic style is a cross-hatched pattern of raised, diagonal lines. Saffiano leather is durable and often used in designer handbags.
This type of leather has been gaining popularity, though has been around for over 100 years. Let’s explore what makes it so strong, great-looking, and useful.
What is Saffiano Leather?
Saffiano leather is a type of pressed leather. Its surface pattern has been stamped into the leather’s outer surface. This is usually done with large, metal plates that apply significant force. Once pressed, the leather can have additional coatings added to it during finishing.
These coatings can be for coloring purposes, or for protection. Original Saffiano leather was made from calfskin and finished with a wax-like surface. Newer Saffiano leathers can be made using plastics and composite coatings. These vary significantly in quality and durability.
Also, while older Saffiano leathers were always made from real leather, some newer Saffiano “leathers” are made using vegan leather or faux leather. In these examples, the entire material is a synthetic plastic, from the non-visible base to the textured top layer and surface protection layer.
There’s a lot more to it than I originally thought! Let’s see where it originally came from, and how it’s changed over time.
The History of Saffiano Leather
Well, as I looked into this I found some interesting things. Mostly, it was a lot of the same information, in a lot of different places, with no original sources or confirmation of its accuracy. So in an effort of transparency I’ll share what I found, what I haven’t found, and what’s still left to know in the mystery of the history of Saffiano leather 🙂 The “story” goes…
The History of Prada
Saffiano leather was invented around 1913 by Mario Prada in Milan, Italy. He and his brother, Martino Prada, has just opened up a shop in Milan. It sold leather goods, ranging from high-quality English leather steamer trunks to leather handbags and small leather personal and travel accessories.
They called the shop, Fratelli Prada, which translated into English becomes, Prada Brothers. Their location was spectacular, a store located within Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II. The Galleria is Italy’s oldest active shopping mall. Originally opened in 1877, it was a popular meeting place right in the center of Milan, offering access to shops filled with high-end goods.
Over time, Prada’s leather goods shop drew the attention of the social elite and aristocratic shoppers in the mall. Their leather goods were made with some of the finest materials, superior craftsmanship, and excellent aesthetic appeal. They were also quite functional. During a time where wealthy elite were traveling the world more, Prada’s quality stood out.
“You cannot do something just for the money. You have to do things you believe in and eventually you will make money.” – Miuccia Prada, Granddaughter of Mario Prada
In 1919, this was recognized more formally. Prada was appointed as an official supplier to the Italian Royal Family, the House of Savoy. This was an incredible gesture. Prada was now associated across Italy and the world as a producer of some of the finest leather goods available.
Modern-day Prada, in recalling it’s history, noted that some of the design elements of the House of Savoy coat of arms inspired the design of the classic Prada logo. Since recognition as an official supplier allowed for incorporation of the Italian Royal Coat of Arms, this was possible.
The shop would pass to Mario’s daughter Luisa Prada. At this time, it was still a prestigious yet niche leather goods shop. Later, around 1975, his granddaughter Miuccia Prada would join the shop and help design accessories. in 1978, she would come to take over the shop. With an unparalleled vision and creative drive, she transformed the Prada name into a global luxury fashion icon.
It has really only been a few decades that the Prada name is so well-known. So where did Saffiano leather come from?
The First Saffiano Leather Goods
This is still part of “as the story goes…” 🙂 In 1913, Mario Prada was looking for some of the finest leathers for his goods. He wanted to develop a unique leather that would be strong, durable, and great looking. It needed to perform well for local and international travel. After all, most of his client were wealthy social elite, and royalty; only the best might do.
He decided to invent the Saffiano leather. Being in Milan, near some of the finest leather tanneries and producers in the world, it was perfect. Mario partnered with one of the biggest tanneries in Milan, Italy, and they made the unique Saffiano leather.
So unique, and valuable this leather was, Mario Prada was able to obtain a patent on the material. This would help ensure that only Prada could produce the material for years to come, gaining a competitive advantage in the global leather marketplace.
As such, in 1913, the Saffiano Leather bag was introduced. It was a handbag and instantly sold well. This became the first of many successful products for Prada in the early days. Saffiano leather was a hit, and Prada would own the rights to it for years.
Saffiano Leather in the Modern Day
Once the patent for Saffiano leather expired, other companies were eager to explore and use the material. It had been a hit, and they wanted to offer it to their customers. In the late 1900’s and early 2000s, many designer handbag manufacturers and design houses were using the leather in their product lines.
With time, leather production processes have evolved too. Where Saffiano leather used to only be made from fine calfskin, it is now commonly made with other materials or blends of materials. These can include plastic coatings and finishes. they can also be 100% plastic compositions where there is no real leather used at all.
With these variations, modern-day Saffiano leather is more just a name referring to a style of finish. The materials used and qualities of the finished products vary so widely. So while lesser quality Saffiano “leathers” exists, some are still made using classic methods that produce a strong, attractive, fine-quality material.
Research into the History of Saffiano Leather
So that is the story behind Saffiano leather. At least, the story I could find. Often wanting to provide accurate information, I checked into many aspects of Saffiano leather though didn’t find much.
Did Mario Prada really invent Saffiano leather?
There is anecdotal suggestion that Mario Prada invented Saffiano leather. I wasn’t able to find any detailed information to help support that. Such as, how he came across it, how he developed it, how a new leather production process was developed. Usually, there is some back story to big inventions or developments.
Also, the current Prada company doesn’t have any history noted around Mario inventing Saffiano leather.
Where was Saffiano leather made?
Online sources refer to Saffiano leather first being produced by one of the biggest tanneries in Milan. I researched some of the largest tanneries still in operation in Milan. It’s possible the largest tannery from 1913 would still be around today. Or, they would know of this famous place.
I reached out to them via email, and received no responses. One could understand not revealing if they are a current producer for a large fashion brand. Though, mention of the place that help start a global brand over 100 years ago would seem like information they would be excited to share.
Was Saffiano Leather Patented?
Aha! Surely, a patent application would share all of this and then some. Who submitted it, who worked on it, what was the idea, etc. If anything, people would buy framed copies of the patent to hang on the wall; after all, this was such an important development in the early years of such a big brand.
From some research, early Italian patents are not available in digital format. Only those from about the 1980s and newer. So it might require a trip to Italy 🙂 Any takers? So although mentioned exist that it was patented, the patent information isn’t readily available to review.
So without much written detail available, or other avenues to find out more, this is the current story of Saffiano leather. Regardless of history, it exists. We can certainly take a look at what Saffiano leather offers to the leather crafter, and the leather goods buyer today.
What is Saffiano Leather Made of?
Classic Saffiano leather is made from the young cow animal, as calfskin. Saffiano leather is made of layers of materials. They are usually calfskin leather, plastics, and waxes. In some variations, Saffiano leather is made of all plastic.
The classic method of making Saffiano leather involves stamping the Saffiano pattern into calfskin (leather from young cows). This is a very soft and supple leather that would take the stamped texture very well.
On top of the pattern a finishing coating, generally a wax composition, would be applied. This would provide a protective barrier to help keep the leather in good shape, while also adding scratch and water-resistant qualities to the finished piece.
In more recent times, Saffiano leather can be made with a layer of Polyurethane (PU) or Polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic. The plastic layer is adhered to the surface of the layer, and then stamped. The pattern/texture is pressed into the plastic, which holds the shape. A finish can be applied here too, if desired.
In this case, the surface of the leather is never exposed, and is just covered in plastic. Thus, split-leather with surface imperfections or visual discolorations can work great here, as the leather is never actually seen.
Another method involves making the entire piece from Polyurethane (PU) or Polyvinylchloride (PVC) plastic. No leather is used at all. In this case, the plastic material is thick enough to form the sides of a bag. The Saffiano texture is pressed into the plastic, and a finishing layer applied if desired. In this method, no leather is used at all, it’s all plastic.
Fans of faux leather or vegan leather might prefer the plastic version of Saffiano leather, as it isn’t made with calfskin at all. Thus, faux Saffiano leather is available, as is vegan Saffiano leather.
How is Saffiano Leather Made?
Saffiano leather is generally made via prepping, heating, stamping, and finishing the leather.
There isn’t a lot of detailed information out there on the Saffiano leather production process, though a few commonly shared steps are mentioned often. These likely vary a bit based on the technologies used, materials used, and preferred end look/feel of the leather.
|How Saffiano Leather is Made|
|Step 1: Prepping||The leather to be used is prepared. This involves all the steps in the leather tanning process to make it ready for commercial use. The leather can also be colored and dyed at this point. Some brands use signature colors.
Others might want to apply a translucent finish to the leather, creating a unique visual contrast with the color selected for the leather underneath. The options here vary widely and are generally up to preference and intended use.
|Step 2: Heating||In order to make the fibers more flexible, and able to more easily accept the texture that will be pressed into them, the leather is heated. This is generally done to a temperature of about 158°F – 167°F (70°C – 75°C). Once at that point, the leather is ready for pressing.|
|Step 3: Pressing||The heated leather is now run through machines that have large, metal plates. The plates are etched in reverse with the Saffiano 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 Saffiano pattern is a textured, cross-hatch pattern. It runs in diagonal lines across the plates. The plates, with tremendous force, are then pressed into the leather. They continue pressing into the heated leather for about 10-15 seconds. This imprints the leather with the Saffiano texture, 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 Saffiano leather are added. Usually, a wax 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.
Overall, it’s the finish that gives Saffiano leather much of the durability that makes it great for everyday use and wear.
Saffiano leathers that are non-leather (the PVC, PU, faux, and vegan types – for more on some of those, click here to read a guide I put together), go through a similar process. Instead of heating the leather, the plastic layers are just stamped with the texture. This might be through large rollers, or on flat tables. They can then be finished with the preferred wax or urethane layers to achieve the desired results.
Working with Saffiano Leather
Since it’s so durable and consists of multiple layers, crafting with Saffiano leather can be a little tricky at first. One needs to learn how to handle the thicker material as well as how to account for the thickness in folds and seams.
Some shaping or moulding might be necessary. Also, if using a sewing machine to make the stitches, it generally needs to be an industrial level, sturdy machine. String threads are recommended, as well as smart leather working tools. Primarily, since you’ll be working through leather and a waxy/plastic finish.
All that craftsmanship can be worth it in the end, as a finished Saffiano leather piece holds up for a very long time.
What is Saffiano Leather Used For?
Saffiano leather is generally used to make designer handbags and wallets. It requires a specialized production, which adds to the appeal. The qualities of the leather also make it stand out. It’s water resistant, can have bright, vivid colors, and it is scratch resistant. When compared to typical leather, these make it a popular choice for everyday wear.
Bags and wallets that face abrasion throughout the day will look better, longer due to the texture and finish. Saffiano leather can also be used when making larger bags, and even luggage.
Companies and designers that are popular and use Saffiano leather include Prada, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Rebecca Minkoff, Mansur Gavriel, Marni, Dooney & Bourke, and Calvin Klein.
What does Saffiano Leather Feel Like?
Saffiano leather has a smooth, textured feel to it. The pattern lines are small and vary subtly in height and depth. When running the hand over them one can feel tiny ridges. Due to the finish usually applied, the hand glides smoothly over it.
The Qualities of Saffiano Leather
Saffiano leather has some unique material characteristics to it. Here is a look at some features and benefits:
|Saffiano Leather Qualities|
|Durable||The wax finish is strong, allowing handbags and wallets to withstand the abrasion from daily carry and use. Saffiano leather usually does not crack or chip. Saffiano leather might soften time with use and flexing, though likely not significantly.|
|Low-Maintenance||With a strong, semi-gloss finish, less dirt and grime adhere to the surface. So, it needs to be cleaned less often.|
|Water Resistant||The waxy finish provides a water-resistant top surface. A splash or some rain generally rolls right off of Safiano leather.|
|Scratch Resistant||The textured pattern itself resists scratching, while also making any minor scratches less noticeable. The wax coating provides a good barrier here so the surface usually always looks good.|
|Easy to Clean||The waxy finish also makes Saffiano leather easy to clean. Some leathers require proper preparation, cleaning, and conditioning. Saffiano leather can usually be cleaned with a damp cloth, or if preferred a specialized Saffiano leather cleaner.|
|Vegan Options||Some Saffiano leathers are vegan, and use no real leather at all. In these cases, Saffiano refers more to the textured pattern applied to the plastic.|
Where to Get Saffiano Leather
If you’re looking to get Saffiano leather to use on a project, it is generally available from leather supply houses and companies. It will be important to know what type you want before you buy.
You can get those made with natural leather as the base, or those made only from plastics. Prices will vary as will color and finish options. Depending on your intended end use, it should be possible to find what you want. A finely crafted piece made from Saffiano leather can look amazing.
Saffiano Leather Care & Maintenance
If handled, maintained, cleaned, and story properly, Saffiano leather can look great for years.
How to Clean Saffiano Leather
Due to it’s finished surface, Saffiano 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 Saffiano 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 Saffiano Leather
Since Saffiano leather has a waxy 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 Saffiano leather products looking great.
How to Fix a Scratch on Saffiano Leather
Fixing a scratch on Saffiano leather can be easy. The top layer is often a wax or plastic 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 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 Saffiano leathers have a unique production process, 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 top 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 back in full working order.
How to Store Saffiano Leather?
Saffiano leather should be stored in a cool, dry place. Keeping it out of direct sunlight is key, as the sun can discolor the finish. A closet at home works great.
For an even better storage solution, place the bag or wallet into a soft fabric bag. This will protect it better from dust, and anything that might come into contact with the bag amongst the items in the closet.
So that’s the world of Saffiano leather. When you’re considering working with a new leather, or buying something made from Saffiano leather, it’s a great material with some excellent uses.
Few materials have as durable a finish with a unique texture. It’s a style that’s loved around the world and looks absolutely great.
Is Saffiano leather expensive?
Saffiano leather can be more expensive due to the amount of steps required in the production process. Finer Saffiano leathers are generally made from higher-quality leather hides, also making the price comparably high to other leather materials.
Is Saffiano leather more durable?
Saffiano leather is an extremely durable material. With a leather or plastic base, and a wax or plastic finish, it resists abrasions, water, and scratches. Saffiano leather is generally more durable than other types of finished leathers.