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20th Anniversary Horsehide.

Piles of untanned horsehide sit in a factory awaiting colors to be applied.
A large pool of vegetable tanning leathers.
Piles of untanned leathers

Photos: Nick Horween

A few weeks back we linked up with Nick Horween, Vice President of Horween Leather Company in Chicago, IL, to talk about the custom horsehide leather that we asked them to produce for our 20th anniversary. While there are dozens of dedicated craftsmen at the tannery who have a hand in every leather project we’ve worked on with Horween over the past decade, our direct point of contact - and thus, the one who most directly brings our ideas to fruition - has always been Nick. In 2016, we had a chance to visit Horween and interview him for a feature where we talked about his journey towards getting involved with the family business, what he hoped to bring to the table and where he wanted to see the business go in the future. It’s a worthwhile read and will help frame all the information we’re about to share.

Something Nick mentioned early on in our most recent conversation stuck out: “People are so used to working with leather that is uniform and highly finished, and that’s just not what we do.” After making initial samples using test hides, we had heard feedback from the various manufacturers who found what they thought to be inconsistencies in the finished production leather. A few conversations with Horween and with us assured our partners that we both expected and embraced small variances as part of what would make for a more unique product. It also provided an opportunity for our partners to showcase why they are so good at what they do. In the case of Schott, all their leather jackets are hand cut which allowed us to reap the benefits of experienced cutters who were able to look at various hides and match grains and finishes across several different hides to ensure that the jackets would show consistency while still exhibiting the character we were aiming for.

Two men at a tannery process leather hides.
Untanned leather hides lay in large piles.

Nick shared that Horween isn’t actively trying to make leather with more character just for the sake of doing so, but that the primary focus is to create leathers that both age well and feel luxurious through traditional hand finishing techniques. What comes from this approach, naturally, is leather that showcases its character rather than covering it up. Horween prides themselves on using hand-applied stains which help to highlight what’s already there. Nick used wood as an example: you can stain it and bring out the grain character and see all the grain and figuring, which is part of what makes it beautiful. If you have a different kind of wood that is knotty, a better approach might be to fill it in and paint it. Both wood applications have a place in the market, but they are completely different; there’s a lot more finesse and nuance that goes into making something that shows its character.

A man processes leather in a factory.
A man wears a black leather jacket using the finished horsehide product.

For our 20th anniversary horseide, we approached Nick with the idea of creating a hybrid of our 2019 Chromexcel Horsehide and the 2017 Arabica Cowhide, which featured a deep brown stain over a natural base. The surface on our 20th anniversary horsehide features an approach that is similar to how the Arabica’s dye was applied on, but the base is more akin to the black horsehide, albeit lighter and more supple at our request. After working through these ideas with Nick, he sent over two possibilities: one was more matte and even of a finish, whereas the other exhibited more of the grain and natural elements of the leather and had a higher shine. We were drawn to the latter and were told that this version actually had less processing done to it, which - when you read through everything we have shared about Horween’s overall approach - makes complete sense. Like Horween, we are also drawn to inconsistencies and imperfections that make each garment unique and more beautiful. And as Nick shared in his Singularities interview from almost a decade ago: "The good stuff looks better as you wear it, and the bad stuff looks worse."

Over time, we expect this 20th anniversary horsehide to age beautifully, but with more nuance than what you’d find on a traditional natural-backed teacore leather. While we love and have taken that approach on previous projects, both we and Horween opted for a more subtle take with this leather. We can’t wait to see how all of the projects featuring this leather will look in the years to come, and cannot thank Nick and his team enough for giving us the opportunity to collaborate and bring truly unique leathers to market.

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