What is Chromexcel Leather?

Ask Alex Guides & Information New Arrivals

For our new Autumn Winter 2018 collection, Cheaney has produced a continued selection of industrial-esque boots and rugged shoes, of which Chromexcel features heavily. But what is Chromexcel leather? Why does it differ from other traditional leathers and how do you care for it?

Let’s learn.

At Cheaney, we source our leathers from some of the best tanneries around the world, who prepare and treat the hides ready for production. For Chromexcel leather, something we’re all very excited about here, our supplier is a factory called Horween, located over in Chicago. A family owned business for more than 100 years and spanning 5 generations, Horween Leather Company aims to produce the word’s best quality leathers efficiently and innovatively, without compromising quality.

As we are the only British manufacturer to be using this leather, it’s my job to explain its properties, benefits, and how you can expect it to age (spoiler alert: it ages brilliantly).

‘Chromexcel’ may sound like a broadsword from Game Of Thrones, but it’s been around in some form or another for well over 100 years. The process of creating it is a ridiculously skilled operation, involving at least 89 separate processes over the course of 28 days, some of those done around the clock to ensure a good yield.

The extensive dying process is undertaken using naturally occurring pigments and applied using heat, steam and pressure, all overseen with a careful hand. The base tan is achieved using chrome salts, hence the name Chromexcel, and characteristically yields a soft, supple and very durable leather. They also turn it blue, but that’s neither here nor there. This stage is incredibly specific in its concentrations, pH levels and timing: one small mistake can result in a ruined batch, an angry factory manager, and is a waste of a perfectly good hide.

The next stage is affectionately known as ‘hot stuffing’, essentially using steamed mills to impregnate (stop it) the hide with oils and waxes – the best available, including cosmetic grade beeswax. This stage is responsible for the ‘pull-up’ of leather – the lightening of the hide due to displacement of the oils.

The final step in this arduous process is hand-finishing the hide with coats of aniline dye and Neatsfoot oil. It’s then shipped to us, and our skilled craftspeople spend 8 weeks making it into a shoe using around 250 hand-crafted operations, ready to be sent to our customers and retail establishments. I then receive a batch in-store, ogle over their beauty, and can’t help but feel that we’re not charging enough for the amount of work that has gone into them, both at the Cheaney factory and Horween. Talk about a labour of love.

So, let’s say you’ve bought a pair of shoes or boots in Chromexcel. Congratulations – aren’t they so cool?! Anyway, here’s what you can expect from the wear.

Chromexcel, as I mentioned earlier, ages brilliantly. What I mean by this, is that it will lighten, darken, scuff, soften and age in such a way as to look vintage without the fragility. It’s incredibly resilient, but the beauty of it is that it will pick up the stresses of daily wear and display it like a medal. You know those really old flight jackets that look effortlessly cool? Like that. So don’t be afraid of scuffs, marks and creases. Every scar tells a story.

There are also many contributing factors to how leather will crease, or ‘break’, many of which are hard to predict due to the nature of leather being a natural product. Chromexcel has very tightly packed fibres, so you can expect the creasing to be defined but soft. As always, use shoe trees to prevent these becoming too prominent. Creasing happens on every single shoe you’ll ever wear, and these will differ in number, location and prominence depending on a myriad of different factors. The only way to stop creasing is to buy shoes and never wear them. That, my friend, is a waste.

Another major benefit of Chromexcel is it’s low maintenance. Feel free to use them and abuse them to a certain extent (obviously keep using your shoe trees, or I’ll know…) and treat them every now and again with Neatsfoot oil (used in the dying process at Horween) or Saphir Greasy Leather Cream. Cheaney stores should stock appropriate Saphir products for Chromexcel in the coming weeks.

In conclusion, Chromexcel is durable, strong and has the added benefit of looking cooler the more you wear them. Considering the amount of time and skill that has gone into the leather, it’s a dream for any shoe lover, or anyone who wants an incredibly reliable choice for almost all conditions.

Jess Ladies Capped Derby Boot | Black Chromexcel Leather
Featured Image: Addison Long Wing Brogue | Black Chromexcel Leather

Many thanks to Horween for allowing use of their factory imagery and prose for this post and to Cheaney Lime St store manager, Alex Pardey, for writing the feature.