Fifty Shades of Shell

Sorry to disappoint but there’s nothing kinky about this post unless you consider horse butt sexy. Also it’s more like six shades of shell and not fifty.

The shell I’m writing about is of course shell cordovan.  That special kool-aid of a leather which according to mr Wikipedia, is an equine leather made from the fibrous flat muscle (or shell) beneath the hide on the rump of the horse. The leather derives its name from the city of Cordoba, Spain, where it was originally prepared by the Moors.

To a leatherhead like me, shell cordovan is that leather made from the muscles of a horse’s ass that develops weird rolls, has varying shades and tones of color even in the same shoe, is warm to the feet, difficult to acquire and to top it all off it’s quite expensive too. Who wants this kind of leather right?

Well a lot of people actually. This demand in combination with the declining supply adds to the allure of shell cordovan making leather enthusiasts want it more. The problem is unlike cow and calfskin leathers, shell cordovan is not produced as a primary product. It is a secondary product and production is based on the availability of horse hide from the horse meat industry. Horse meat isn’t really something you’d find in most groceries except maybe in dog food. With less and less people eating horse meat, the availability of horse hide declines.

My own experience with shell is limited to the six pairs I currently have.  To date I currently have shell Jeffersons, Grayson, Leeds, Strands and Bayfields from AE and a balmoral boot 80093 from Carmina. It’s a small but certainly growing collection of horse butt shoes and boots.

I’m not too crazy about the rolls but what I really like about shell is its natural glossiness. It’s impregnated with so much oil during the tanning process that enough brushing alone will let out the oils to the surface resulting to a brilliant shine.

Bare shell shines brilliantly even just with brushing

The other thing I like about shell is the variance in shade and tone of the same shell color. Officially I only have three colors of shell: brown (Jefferson and Bayfield), burgundy (Grayson, Leeds and Strand) and cognac (80093 balmoral boot). If one looks at my shell collection though it appears I have six different colors of shell. My brown shell Bayfields are lighter than my brown shell Jeffersons, my burgundy shell Graysons have more red in it than my other burgundy shoes while my burgundy shell Leeds can pass for brown shell. My burgundy shell Strands has a deep purple tone that I don’t see on my Graysons and Leeds. While some folks prefer to have consistent coloring when buying and choosing their footwear, they expect to get burgundy when they buy burgundy and not purple, I actually like the variance. It makes me think my shoes are a bit unique, that it’s not exactly the same as someone else’s even though they might be the same model and make up. It also reduces the overlap between my shoes because a brown shell boot is then different from another brown shell boot, right?

L-R: brown shell Jeffersons, brown shell Bayfields, cognac shell 080092, burgundy shell Graysons, burgundy shell Leeds, burgundy shell Strands

Overall, shell cordovan is a great looking and wearing leather as long as you don’t mind the rolls that will likely develop. Also it generally feels warmer than calf so I don’t really think a fully lined shell cordovan loafer would be a great choice for those times you want to go sockless. Hoever, if you are in the market for a tough leather that shines like wet glass then look no further than shell cordovan. I have to warn you though that it is highly addictive so please don’t blame me if and when you blow your 5 year shoe budget over the next couple of months after you’ve bought your first shell cordovan foot wear.

Six shades of Horween shell cordovan leather


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