I noticed, in one of many introspective moments on any given day, that I lean toward suede more than any other form of leather, when it comes to leather goods, like footwear, belts, wallets, and even leather outerwear / jackets. Just check my Style Staples board on Pinterest, it’s full of suede!
Peek in my closet. It’s there too. *Heirloom status* – the Coach dark brown suede car coat I recently inherited. YUSS.
Suede is different than pebbled, grained, or smooth calf, lamb, and other skins, because it is the inner side of the skin, rather than the outer. It is therefore softer, more pliable, and more porous. In shoe or handbag applications where smooth leather is ‘unlined,’ you’ll find suede underneath.
When used as the primary material, like in suede shoes, suede bags, or suede belts, the difference is in the texture and color. No shine means a matte, vivid color, and a textural richness that is difficult to achieve with smooth leather. In more voluminous applications, like coats, dresses, or other items of clothing, suede is valued for its ability to drape and flow more gracefully than top-hide leather.
I find that suede looks more expensive than its smooth counterparts, all else being equal. Cheap suede more easily passes as high-quality than cheap smooth leather, which can look similar to plastic or synthetic leather.
FURTHERMORE, and the real reason suede is so great: it tends to have a stronger scent of leather (appealing to most), and it works well with bare skin, in warmer climates. Smooth leather doesn’t absorb moisture well, hence the use of suede or napped hide in the lining of loafers, sandals, and other summer footwear.
For these reasons (softness, visual depth), suede trim is used on luxury ready-to-wear made of other fabrics (like cotton, wool), and applied to luxury auto interiors, in the form of alcantara, a synthetic suede. It’s primary downsides (porosity, susceptibility to scratches and stains) mean it fares best in dry weather, and a waste in wet climates.
The quality, manipulation, and treatment of suede varies too, as with any other material. Some are rougher (more napped) than others, and some are burnished or patented, whereby a single piece of outer-grain leather is sanded down and treated to achieve more than one final texture. [See: Jimmy Choo]
Some archetypal forms of footwear use suede exclusively: driving loafers [Tod’s], desert boots [Clark’s], and the German sandals more commonly known as Birkenstocks. You can spot suede all over both mens and womens shoes, in supporting or lead roles.
A brief google search of the history of suede nets this exerpt: “In 1930, the French designer Paquin created a suit using goat suede and wool. Cow-slit was used by Hermès in 1957 to create a coatdress and also by Bonnie Cashin in her suede ensemble from the 1960’s. Suede is also a favorite among couturiers, as demonstrated in Givenchy’s suede patchwork suit from Couture Collection 1992 and Jean Paul Gaultier’s suede-draped tunic from his Couture Autumn/Winter Collection 2002.”
Should you find yourself suede-less in the warmer weather months this year, here are some suggestions for pieces to fold into your repertoire:
Or, should you need a touch of warmth and biker style this summer, consider Belstaff…
Billingham suede jacket, $2,025
Suede is one of my lifelong favorites, in any format. It is textural, luxurious, and supremely comfortable. Minus being more delicate than other leather forms, it is hard to beat in elegance.