Sartorial Excellence News
Caveat Emptor: Determining the Quality of Leather Accessories
Vol.7 No.4 International Edition I
Copyright 2010 Kabbaz-Kelly
. . .
April 29, 2010

Just in From Europe
New For Summer 2010!
See column below

Caveat Emptor - A Primer on
Hallmarks of Quality: Mens & Womens Leather Accessories

A Free Silk & Cashmere or Silk Scarf for Mother's Day!


New For Summer 2010
Click any Photo to See the Item

Custom made Italian Silk Robe

Ankle Length Marcoliani Merinos

Bresciani Retro Stripe Dress Socks

Pure Silk Zimmerli Negligee

The New Urban Chic in White

Urban Chic Boxer Pant

Urban Chic is Girl Friendly, Too!

Magica Fashion Stripe Knee Highs

Bresciani Faux Cable Knit OTC

Zimmerli Pureness Rib:The Long ...

... and the Short of it! HOT!!!

Marcoliani Merino Knee-Highs

Summer Retro Casual Stripe

Zimmerli Pureness Shawl Bodysuit

Zimmerli Cocoon Lounge/WarmUp

Begg: World's Finest Scarves

Zimmerli for Women Belle de Jour


Taking shortcuts in the creation of quality products has been one of my pet peeves over the years. As well as we might try to make our bespoke shirts and as much as we ride herd over our socks & underwear artisans, the wide range of men's and women's accessories available on the market is a haven for shortcuts. This month I'll focus on leather accessories. The article appears below.

Speaking of Socks ...
I know. I know. I wasn't speaking of socks. Nonetheless, these are the spectacular new men's Zig-Zag Follia cotton lisle socks from Marcoliani-Milano. A great way to add a bit of pizaazz to your Summer.

Us ... Forget the Distaff?!?
Of course not! We asked Paolo, Carlo, and Erminia make the same socks for our loyal ladies ... in a few different colors. Naturally, the Black is available for women but sorry, guys. you don't get the Lime Green!

Finally Arrived! From Zimmerli, a host of new items. For the guys there is a new style of Luxury underwear and the new Urban Chic is becoming more popular by the day.
The Distaff can revel not only in the new Regatta Top & Pant set, but two beautiful new ribbed Pureness dresses and a Pureness shawl collar bodysuit as well! There are photos and links to these and many other brand new items in the left column.

All of our new 2010 Spring/Summer goodies are now here. This issue features a few. See our What's New and Coming Soon pages for much more. Don't miss our Custom Made Silk Robe!

Best regards,
Joelle Kelly & Alexander Kabbaz

In Response: Due to the number of requests, we have now made all the Sartorial Excellence News articles available on our web site. Click here.

As always, we love your feedback: Contact us with your thoughts, positive or not. We'll respond to them (anonymously, of course) in our upcoming issues.

  • Caveat Emptor - A Primer on
    Hallmarks of Quality: Mens & Womens Leather Accessories
  • by Alexander S. Kabbaz, Master Artisan

    Enter the studio of any fine leather craftsperson and this is what you'll see. The cutting block where it all begins, some patterns, and a myriad of tools of the trade. In this article you'll learn many of the important quality characteristics to look for and short explanations as to why these are important. Though I'll use the construction of men's braces and women's handbags as my primary examples, know that most of the same shortcuts are used in briefcases, small leather goods such as wallets, and soft-sided luggage.

    Leather Cutting Block: Really interested? Click here for a detailed view.

    Note the unique similarity among the accessories I mentioned: All are made from a combination of leather and fabric. What is the overarching difference between leather (or exotic skins) and fabric? While leather can just be cut into shape and remain functional, the raw edges of cut fabric absolutely must be turned and sewn down or the yarns will unravel.

    Raw-edged vs. Turned-edge Leather

    Here lies my greatest complaint: the raw edges of leather. Leather can - and should, have its cut edges turned under just like fabric. It is more attractive. It is more durable. It offers significantly greater longevity. And it requires talent, time, and training - years of it!

    Raw-Edged(left) vs. Turned brace fittings:
    Which do you prefer?

    Raw-Edged Handbag Top Trim: It could be much nicer!

    Leather pieces can - and usually are - die-cut and hole-punched by a machine called a "clicker", often without regard to where on the skin the piece is placed. Once cut, a minimally trained sewing machine operator throws in a few stitches and the piece is ready to go.

    Raw-Edged(front) vs. Turned brace button ends:
    Note the fraying and leather 'schmutz' from the front piece.

    This can't be emphasized strongly enough, for it is the greatest cost-cutting measure of all. Yes, some may use cowhide where calfskin would have been better, thus saving half or more on the cost of materials. Some may use nylon thread rather than cotton or silk. It's easier to sew and cheaper. But let's face it - saving a few bucks on materials vs. saving hours of expensive, highly skilled labor is but a small thing.

    Examine for a moment the process of turning leather edges. Unlike fabric which is simply turned or seamed and sewn, leather often needs the advance preparation of skiiving before it can be turned. Skiiving is the process - best done by a skilled leatherworker's hands, of trimming the under-surface of the cut edge to make it thinner and more pliable. One slip of the skivving knife will remove a chunk rather than a sliver and the cut piece instantly becomes garbage. But without the thinning, the edge would be thick and hard, making the finished product both ugly and stiff.

    Finished, Turned Pieces(left)
    Shown right in raw form ready for turning

    Raw-Edged(left) vs. Turned brace backs:You be the judge.

    Raw-Edged Handbag Handle:
    Note the backing fraying out of the unturned raw edge.

    This becomes especially difficult on the harder skins such as alligator which require the skill of only the most talented ... and even moreso when one factors in that a cut piece of alligator can cost 10-20 times that of a piece of leather.

    Some makers will go one extra step with raw-edged products. The will use an "edge-coat" dye to color the raw edge so that it matches the leather color. Although better than the plain, uncolored raw edge, edge coating eventually wears off, especially at points of stress.

    Edge-coated Buckle Attachment: Note red dye has worn away
    where the handle buckle rotates during use.

    Leather and Skin Thickness - A Matter of Strength

    A second issue to be aware of involves the use of thinner leathers and exotics such as Teju lizard. Snakeskin is especially susceptible. In these cases, strength can be an issue. The solution is simple but often ignored in the quest to economize by using raw edges. These materials need a dimensionally strong backing layer. Some makers solve this issue by glueing the skin to a leather, cloth, or other substrate type of backing prior to cutting. This, again, permits the use of raw, rather than turned, edges. These are even uglier because, as time passes and the adhesive strength decreases, edge separation and fraying are often the result.

    Rear Side(left) shows the backing and turned in edges of this
    beautiful alligator brace back

    The proper method is to cut a larger piece from the skin, skive the edges, glue in the backing, and, after turning the edge under, following it wherever possible with a stitch.

    Visible vs. Hidden - Are They Equally Important?

    As an artisan of more than five decades (ouch!), my final issue lies in what is normally visble vs. what is not seen. It is a maxim of the best makers that no matter what part of an item a client looks at it will be pleasing to the eye. This means, quite simply, that what the outside observer is able to see should not be the sole criterion by which quality is judged. One should be able to look at the inside, the reverse ... any of the parts which do not normally show ... and be just as pleased.

    Rear Side(left) of the raw-edged brace fitting from above is simply ugly whereas the turned-edge example is meant to be viewed from anywhere

    The attitude of "it doesn't show when worn or used - therefore it doesn't matter - just doesn't cut it with the true artisan and it should not be acceptable to you either. This often carries over to "well, it's barely visible so it can be sloppy". An experienced, top-quality maker just will not tolerate sloppiness anywhere on the piece. Period.

    The top edge trim of the handbag, normally hidden in the fold,
    was neither skiived nor turned. Simply ... sloppy!

    In Conclusion ... Caveat Emptor

    All of this does not mean you should be peering inside your handbags or inspecting your braces and firing off letters of complaint to their creators. Raw edges in leather goods are commonplace; turned edges the rarity and in some cases not possible. But when inspecting your potential acquisitions, make note of these shortcuts. Look inside and underneath, back as well as front, not just at the veneer. You'll be a better buyer; your accessories the nicer and more durable for it.

    Thank you for your time.

    Copyright 2010 Alexander S. Kabbaz, All Rights Reserved

  • A Free Silk & Cashmere or Silk Scarf for Mother's Day!
  • Don't forget Mom!

    We've reserved 9 Kabbaz-Kelly custom made 72" Silk Charmeuse scarves for the first 9 clients who place a Mother's Day order over $200.

    And there's even more: The first five orders for $500 or more will receive a custom made Kabbaz-Kelly Italian Cashmere front/Silk back scarf specially for Mom. Just write "Mother's Day" in the message box at checkout and the custom scarf will ship with your order.

    This special offer ends Sunday May 2nd ... but there's no chance they'll last that long. Get your order in today!

    Cashmere! Great for Mom.

    Scott & Charters Custom Made
    12-Ply Shawl Collar Cashmere Cardigan
    Available in more than 200 Colors
    Shown in color Camelia

    FYI: Forward Sartorial Excellence News to a friend. Email us their name. When they order you'll receive a $100 Gift Certificate.
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