What is patent leather?
Patent leather is a high-gloss, grain-free leather, which has been gloss-finished on the surface or covered with a glossy, mirror-smooth film. Patent leather is used for shoes, caps, clothing, wallets and handbags. In the clothing sector, lacquered leather is rather rare and is usually associated with clothing for sexual preferences. Nowadays, you can see many high-gloss materials in the bag and shoe sectors. In the low price range, it`s mostly high-gloss artificial leather.
The origins of patent leather can be traced back to ancient Egypt. More than 4,000 years ago, the Egyptians used a technique called "faience" to glaze ceramic surfaces. This process was later used on leather to create a shiny effect. In ancient Greece and Rome, patent leather was widely used in shoes and clothing to create a luxurious and eye-catching look.
Patent leather continued to be popular in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Patent leather manufacturing techniques improved, and the coatings were now often based on shellac, a resinous material derived from the excreta of lacquer scale insects. This method was used in many European countries, including Italy, France and England.
Patent leather peaked in popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period, new techniques were developed to create the glossy finish, including the application of oil paints and polishing with glass paste. Patent leather has been widely used in the fashion industry, especially for shoes, bags and accessories.
Patent leather was also used on uniforms. Patent leather was used in some armies for certain uniform parts, especially during the First and Second World Wars. Patent leather boots were particularly popular with officers and higher ranks as they gave a polished and representative look. However, patent leather was not used on all uniforms, but on certain uniforms such as guard uniforms. A well-known example of the use of patent leather in Guards uniforms is the British Queen's Guard standing outside the Royal Residences in London. The Queen's Guard boots are made of patent leather, adding to the Guard's traditional and imposing appearance.
Traditionally, high-gloss leather or patent leather was worn on special occasions. Therefore, the leather did not develop signs of use so quickly . Today, such leather is used every day as shoes or wallets. Wear correspondingly becomes visible faster. Other smooth leathers are similarly sensitive, but their softness and the matte surface mean that damage is less obvious. The eye perceives differences on gloss surfaces faster than on matte surfaces. With high-gloss varnishes, scratches and other damages should avoided as much as possible.
Neon green imitation leather with patent leather optics.
Crinkled patent leather
Patent leather converts to crinkled patent leather.
Cleaning and care of patent leather
A damp cloth is sufficient to clean patent leather. In particular, light lacquer leather appears to have a sensitivity to absorb dyes. Therefore, never store patent leather in dark bags, never put in plastic bags and never in contact with other leather bags. Transferred dyes penetrate the high-gloss surface like a tattoo and cannot be cleaned anymore. For Ballpoint pen marks or similar stains use cleaning spirit (try to cover the exposed area) to remove the discolouration before the dyes are absorbed.
Discolouration in patent leather by contact. Impossible to clean. Louis Vuitton: New patent leather bag, even discoloured on both sides.
Line from a permanent marker pen on patent leather. There is no way to remove by cleaning.
Sometimes it happens that old patent leather becomes sticky with time. It must then be assumed that this is a decay process. Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem. You can clean the leather with a mild leather cleaner and wipe it with a cleaning spirit (test before!). For a moment, the stickiness decreases as long as the condition is not yet too bad.
Older patent leather bag that has become sticky on its own. A repair is not possible.
The patent leather is glued and inseparable. It's too late for a rescue.
Important: Especially when old patent leather is treated with oils or grease based products, the stickiness starts or is even reinforced. Patent leather does not need oil or grease (any kind of classic leather care including shoe polish) for conservation. The high gloss layer covers the surface of leather completely and does not allow the product to penetrate and reach the leather fibres. A care treatment would only make sense if the covering layer needed oil or grease. This is not the case.