On the weekend, a friend and I stumbled upon a small vintage shop filled with rack upon rack of leather jackets and coats. The shop had the classic, musty smell of vintage from a certain era that, for me, always conjures up memories of playing dress-ups with my sister when we were very small. Tulle tutus, Glomesh handbags and our grandmother’s fur stole were on high rotation.
Thanks to its natural properties, leather is strong, water repellent and repairable, which means it can last for decades. “Leather is one of those materials that is often misunderstood – both easier and trickier to look after than people think,” says designer Christopher Esber. “It is a naturally durable material, but never without its quirks. Look after it and it will look after you.”
Balm and buff
The founders of British bag brand LPOL, Katy and John Maskell-Bell, say to keep your leather garment clean and in the best condition, you should apply a high-quality natural leather balm or cream every few weeks. “This will ensure your item will last for many more years, extending its life so you can enjoy more wear.”
Before you do this, use a damp cloth to clean the surface of the item and leave it for a few minutes to dry. Then, apply the balm using a soft dry cloth and circular motions over all surfaces. Let it soak in for twenty minutes, then using a clean part of the cloth, remove any remaining residue and buff the leather to give it a discreet shine.
Since there are many different types of leather, from patent to suede, it’s important to use the right product for your garment. The team behind Farfetch’s repair service, the Restory, recommend applying Carnauba cream to smooth leather, and using a spray for other types of leathers like suede or nubuck.
According to the Maskell-Bells, you can also select a conditioner based on the colour of your leather item. For black leather they suggest a natural black balm; for tan and brown leather they suggest a neutral one. “We also recommend waxing the edges and stitching on your leather garment to keep them resistant to water.”
If you’re not sure, or if the item is particularly precious, Esber says to leave moisturising or replenishing creams to the professionals. Most shoe and handbag repair services will also take care of leather clothes, and you can ask them for advice on home care for the future.
What about washing?
Esber recommends removing superficial stains or dirt with a colourfast, slightly damp cloth and avoiding hard cleaners or detergents. When in doubt, he says, “trust the experts. Look for specialist laundries that handle leather apparel”. According to the Restory, leather should never be machine washed. Instead, wash the exterior of your leather item by hand, using soft detergents to spot clean the garment.