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Everything You Need to Know About Cordovan Leather

When it comes to top-quality materials for shoe-making, shell cordovan leather is as good as it gets. At first glance, shell cordovan leather may look unassuming since it looks very similar to other leather shoes. However, to the trained eye, this luxurious leather is the ultimate dream shoe for the classiest of gentlemen. While there are plenty of high-end shoes, none of them compared to the rarity and unique properties that make shell cordovan leather shoes the holy grail of shoe leather. So, what exactly makes this shoe so special that it is worthy of its premium price? Here is everything you need to know about cordovan leather.

 What is Shell Cordovan Leather?

Shell cordovan leather is the premium, equine leather that comes from the hindquarters of a horse. It is called shell Cordovan leather because the material is made from the fibrous connective tissues called shells found beneath the hide of a horse’s rump. The elastic and flat tissues are what make the leather unique since its fibrous structure makes the leather durable.

Shell cordovan is used to make high-end shoes that are rare and of premium quality. It is often referred to as the finest leather in the world. Its rarity and price also come from the minimal amount of skin that can be used to make the leather. Shell cordovan leather has many qualities that make it far superior to any other kind of leather.

The History of Shell Cordovan Shoes

The history of shell cordovan leather dates back to the 7th century and can be traced to the geographic origins of Spain and France. However, the origin of the word cordovan refers to the city of Cordoba, Spain, where the leather is cultivated. The term shell refers to the horse’s hindquarters, which is commonly referred to as the shell.

Shell cordovan leather was initially used as the outer protective material in military armors, shields, and breastplates. However, it was only in the mid-1700s to early 1800s that shell cordovan was actively used in the production of premium quality leather artworks and decorative pieces. By the 1900s, its usage spread to razors when Gillet adopted sharpened razor knives. Although the use of shell cordovan leather has changed throughout the years, there is no doubt that it has always been highly durable.

The launch of shell cordovan shoes

As the popularity of shell cordovan shoes started growing, leather craftsmen began experimenting with variations of shell cordovan. These variations were continuously refined, making it better suited to be used in different things such as luxurious trunks and wall hangings. 

It wasn’t until 100 years ago that leather craftsmen actively started making shoes with shell cordovan leather. The leather was now more refined, thinner, more durable for shoes, and looked smooth and lustrous. Today, shell cordovan leather is one the most expensive leather used in shoe-making and is only used by high-end luxury brands.

What makes it so expensive?

Many people who are unfamiliar with shell cordovan leather tend to often wonder what makes it so different. It may seem outrageous that leather craftsmen and designers demand $500 and upwards for shoes made of shell cordovan leather. But once you understand where it comes from and what makes it so special, the price almost seems insignificant.

Shell cordovan shoes are worth every penny, and not just because they are stylistic or have a unique look. These shoes are durable and will truly last for around 50 to 60 years. So, if you fall in love with a pair of shell cordovan leather shoes, it is important to know that they make an excellent investment. Their high prices are essentially inconsequential when spread out over the many decades, you will be wearing the shoes.

Unique Characteristics

Since shell cordovan leather is made from horsehide instead of cow, there are bound to be many unique characteristics that regular leather does not have. For example, one of their most unique characteristics is in their physical structure. Horses have pores on their hindquarters that are not visible to the naked eye. However, these pores make them naturally water-resistant, which means the leather shoes are water-resistant. This helps prevent the shoes from getting water damage from environmental stimulants or even sweat. The water-resistant nature of shell cordovan leather helps the shoes have a longer shelf life. This leather is also stretch resistant, which means it won’t form any creases while you walk. Although shell cordovan leather shoes are more expensive, they hold up much better than other leather shoes that can get damaged or stretched quickly.


Just as the best things in life take time, the production of shell cordovan leather is also a lengthy process. Even just the tanning of shell cordovan takes over a minimum of 6 months. The production of shell cordovan leather is a complex process that takes a lot of patience and meticulous work. Aside from production time, the supply of horse hides is also low compared to the all-time high demand. Another problem in the supply chain is that the supply of horsehide itself is very low. This is because, unlike cow leather, shell cordovan leather can only be taken from a specific part of the horse, which means there is much less leather available to make the shoes. The amount of available leather is also highly unlikely to grow as they are a part of a limited supply chain.

The Benefits of Shell Cordovan Shoes

Smooth and lustrous look

Shell cordovan shoes will never crease even after being worn for a long time. Because of this, the shoes will look smooth and creaseless even after years of use. Those who love leather shoes will love the look of shell cordovan shoes. Shell cordovan’s smoother finish and a brighter luster give the shoes an aesthetic edge over other leather shoes. This is all thanks to the collagen and elastin in the fibrous tissues of the hide.


As previously mentioned, shell cordovan leather is made from horsehide, which has smaller pores compared to cowhide. This makes them naturally more water-resistant than shoes made with regular leather. But, of course, the leather still is not waterproof since. But if there is ever a situation where water gets spilled on the shoes, or there is a sudden downpour of rain, the cordovan leather shoes won’t be ruined.


Shell cordovan has incredible durability if treated properly. If the shoes are cleaned, polished, and waxed timely, then these can go beyond a lifetime. Make sure to use products made specifically for this particular leather. Although shell cordovan leather does not crease when folded, it does ripple. These ripples can be prevented with proper care.

Because the tanning of the leather takes over 6 months, the entire piece made with cordovan leather is more resistant to tearing and damage than other leathers. Because of this, the shoes look newer for longer and last way longer than shoes made of cowhide.

Stretches Less

When it comes to keeping in shape, shell cordovan is the clear winner out of all types of leather shoes. Unlike regular leather that stretches and loses its shape, shell cordovan molds to the foot without stretching. This lack of stretching makes the leather fit better for longer and keeps the shoes looking pristine. Shell cordovan leather is tough and durable yet comfortable on the feet. This makes it the perfect shoe if you plan to wear one pair of premium shoes for a long time.


Anyone with an interest in collecting high-quality items can surely appreciate shell cordovan shoes. Most leather hides come from the whole animal, but shell cordovan is made just from horses’ hindquarters. This is because the leather is the thickest at the horse’s shell. So unlike cowhide, which can produce as many as 11 cowboy boots, it takes almost one and a half shells to make just one pair of shell cordovans. That is exclusivity at its best.

Along with a limited supply of material, shell cordovan leather is also labor-intensive, making production slower. This means there is less leather to be made into shoes. Even the skills needed to make these shoes are highly specific. There are very few tanneries able to produce shell cordovan shoes. The raising of the horses is also a limiting factor in how much leather can be created since specific regions that the horses must graze in are scarce. With a limited farming space, fewer horses are raised for shell cordovan leather. All of these factors contribute to the rarity of shell cordovan leather, making it a more expensive shoe.

Is Shell Cordovan Worth Owning?

If you are a lover of luxury shoes, shell cordovan leather shoes are a must-have at some point in your life. A rare pair of shell cordovan might be costly, but they indeed are priceless when it comes to the value they add to your closet. Their durability also makes them the right choice for those who want to wear their shoes for decades at a time. 



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