One of my earliest memories of a handbag is a structured alligator skin top handle bag. I’ve been obsessed with embossed leather for many years, but for some reason the croc texture on handbags and accessories really chomps at my heart.
This season, the croc-embellished trend took over runways from New York to Paris, but croc and alligator skins have a long history in handbags.
The use of crocodile and exotic leathers in handbags
First, a little bit of handbag history. For centuries, handbags were made of cloth or metal. In the 1950s, women became obsessed with carrying a “nice” handbag, made of black calf, crocodile, or alligator. You can go to an antique shop right now and find vintage bags in crocodile leather.
Today, Hermes is known for its use of exotics leathers made of alligator, ostrich, and crocodile. One of the most expensive purses in the world is an Hermès Birkin bag with white gold and diamond hardware that sold for more than $200,000, is made out of Porosus crocodile. Louis Vuitton makes crocodile and alligator leather bags each season to stroll down their runway.
In 2018, Chanel announced that they are no longer creating products made from snakes, crocodiles, lizards, and stingrays because of ethical issues. Since their announcement, the sales of mock croc-embossed accessories have skyrocketed.
The entire state of California prohibits the importation/sale of python, crocodile, and alligator, and some now luxury brands are getting on board with the ban too.
The other major players in the industry like Hermes, Louis Vuitton (and other LVMH brands), and many brands owned by Kering have moved towards their ability to source exotic skins ethically by owning and operating reptile farms instead of sourcing them. That way, they’re caring for the animals through the entire supply chain and have control of the animal’s welfare. The ever-increasing price point on exotics is due to the care that goes into raising and caring for the animal.
“It’s not an endangered species, but if we don’t change anything, they will become an endangered species.”
—Kering chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault
When I read that quote, all I could think was how much I respect that as a consumer. I think it shows humility and an awareness of the world… which many luxury brands lack in the name of making money.
As a reptile lover, I don’t like the idea of alligators and crocodiles being raised for their skins. Hermes faced backlash after an undercover investigation exposed their mistreatment of reptiles in farms that sent skins to an Hermès-owned tannery where they end up becoming Birkin or Kelly handbags that can cost $50,000 or more. It takes two or three crocodiles to make just one Hermes handbag.
What is embossed crocodile leather?
Instead of using alligators and crocodiles, many brands have turned to the lower cost option: creating their own reptile print on leather. Mock croc, or crocodile-embossed leather, is created with a machine that applies heat and a stamp, then presses super hard until there’s an impression on the leather, giving it the look and feel of the reptile skin. It creates a unique and beautiful texture that has depth and richness of reptile skin, but made with cow leather instead (using cows for leather is a separate post entirely).
Fake, or non-leather croc-textured items are getting trickier to identify, as many of them are made with molds from real crocodile or alligator skins. Usually, the space between the scales is not very deep, and the pattern is often repetitive.
If you didn’t know it was embossed leather, wouldn’t you think it was real crocodile? The scales look imperfect and luxurious, but it’s not actually made of crocodile.
Questions for you:
Can you tell these pieces not real crocodile or alligator?
How do you feel about exotic skins? Do you own any? Are you pro or con?
Do you think about ethically-sourced materials when shopping, especially for luxury?
Becca Risa Luna