Ever since I have owned my first Alden pair of shoes in Color #8 Horween Shell Cordovan, I’ve noticed the color patina to a lighter shade over time. I’ve observed it happens most prominently with Alden’s Color #8 Shell Cordovan because the color starts very dark. I believe that Alden treats their Shell Cordovan (from Horween) with their own glaze that provides sheen and glossiness. On the other hand, their color 8 chromexcel brightens up much more quickly.
These are three Alden shoe pairs pictured and their dates purchased:
Alden x JCrew Color #8 Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot (10/06/2013)
Alden x The Bureau Belfast Color #8 Shell Cordovan Longwing Blucher (12/28/2015)
Alden x Epaulet NYC Color #8 Shell Cordovan Tanker Boot (11/30/2016)
My shoe care routine for these three pairs of Shell Cordovan have been the same:
1. Wipe down with damp microfiber cloth after every so number of wears 2. Brush with a Horsehair Shoe Brush
Every 6-12 months, apply some Venetian Shoe Cream to the cordovan sparingly, letting it dry, wipe down any excess cream, then back to brushing. For any scuffs, I apply a small drop of Venetian Shoe Cream in the area and then use a Polished Deer Bone to rub circularly with light pressure. I’ve tried the Deer Bone without any cream and noticed it doesn’t do much. You can also use the back of a metal spoon to achieve similar results.
I’ve yet to need to apply any wax based polish to the shoes.
Recently, I feel that Alden’s Color 8 batches have been much darker than I remember. The color looks almost black unless in direct sunlight. I believe much of the reason Alden re-dyes their Color 8 is to minimize any blemishes/scars the leather may have.
I’ve yet to determine what causes the lightening of color in the Color 8 Shell Cordovan. It might be pigments naturally degrading with age or even direct sunlight playing a role. Either way, we each have our own perceptions of what Color 8 Shell Cordovan should look like – whether a very dark burgundy or a deep, vibrant red, Color 8 will always be king.
My absolute favorite leather from Horween is Chromexcel – specifically Natural Chromexcel. I love the color depth and variation when the leather ages. I’ll show a before and after conditioning of my 3-year old pair of Viberg Service Boots in Natural Chromexcel. Horween’s other leather/tannages such as Cordovan, Chromepak, and Dublin all come really close as my runner-up favorites!
Here is a tannage chart taken directly from Horween’s website. Out of the 51 leather types listed, I narrowed the list down to 8 of the more commonly used tannages for leather goods. I highlighted what I feel are the key characteristics that makes Chromexcel unique, and I’ll briefly go over each.
Because Chromexcel is a tanning process and not a leather type, you can have both cowhide and horsehide. It is also known as the “original pull-up leather”.
Combination tanned: Chromexcel is both chrome tanned and vegetable tanned which brings in qualities of both processes! Tanning is the process of permanently altering the structure of animal skin. Chrome tanning is a faster method using chromium and makes the leather soft and water-resistant. Vegetable tanning uses organic tannins from trees and other plants along with other oils/waxes and creates a very durable leather. Veg tanned leather is not water-resistant, so water may stain.
Hot stuffed: Chromexcel is heavily nourished with oils and waxes that creates the pull-up effect and water resistance.
Air dried: Chromexcel is naturally air dried for about a week such that the leather shrinks to its original size.
Aniline finished: The leather is saturated with soluble dyes such that the texture/irregularities of the leather is left untouched which is ideal for a raw enthusiast like me!
My Natural Chromexcel Leather Goods:
These are a few of my other small goods in Natural Chromexcel. The most wears are probably seen on the One Star Leather Park Sloper and Hollows Leather Rail Belt as they were worn/used nearly every day. Both these are at about 3 years plus of age. If you don’t want excessive stretching on a belt, I’d shy away from CXL as it initially stretches significantly!
The leathers of both pieces started off as a light brown oak color. The leather color darkened quite quickly within the first few months to a rich brown by oils, dirt, and abrasion. I noticed that direct sunlight also sped up the darkening process. The leather also picked up significant indigo dye from my raw denim. After the initial and drastic color change, the color becomes quite saturated and will not darken all that more.
I have not felt the need to condition the leather, and they both still display a lot of pull-up. With the amount of oils/waxes in the leather, most superficial scuffs/nicks have been easy to rub away with my fingers.
Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boots:
7 Brass eyelets
Partial structured toe
Made in Canada
Price: $720 USD
When I purchased this pair, there weren’t too many pics of Natural CXL Vibergs online. There has been at least one similar spec MTO arranged by Styleforum around 2014-2015 but with an unstructured toe.
I purchased this pair of Vibergs from Mr Porter back in mid 2015. I believe it was the second restock of this makeup on Mr Porter. When I received it a few days later, I was blown away by how thick the Natural Chromexcel was. The leather arrived with a significant sheen to it. It took quite a while for any visible crease to form (in contrast to my Viberg Color 8 CXL pair). For the price of $720 USD, I’m glad Viberg used high quality hides!
The boots arrived with a small, adorable 1oz jar of Venetian Shoe Cream, a pair of flat waxed cotton laces, and a spare pair of brown rawhide leather laces in the box. I initially kept the flat waxed laces as I wanted the laces to accentuate the sleek, narrow 2030 last. Yet, I had a hard time deciding which laces suited the boots best. I eventually switched over to the leather laces after a few months. The flat laces reminded me much of the laces used on Alden’s boots (although this Viberg pair of laces were thicker and sturdier), and I feel that the leather laces fits the rugged Viberg brand aesthetic well.
I like the pairing of brass eyelets with this leather. They seem to make the rich brown tones “pop”.
The toe box is partially structured and is further reinforced by the thick Chromexcel leather. While the right boot’s toe area has flattened a bit, the toe box is still quite firm to the touch on both boots.
The boot tongue is also made of a thinner, softer Natural CXL which was different than my color 8 CXL pair that had a black contrasting oil tanned tongue. The black oil tanned leather is the standard go-to tongue for Viberg boots. I feel the CXL tongue fits this boot better than a contrasting one would. The leather used here is very much pliable, soft, and shows creases from the laces well.
For conditioning/care, I’ve kept to a simple regimen of applying Venetian Shoe Cream every 6 months or so. I apply it onto the palms of my hands (minimizes loss from using a rag) and rub the cream onto the boot. I let the cream dry for a couple of minutes, I brush them down with a horsehair brush. Initially, the cream darkens the leather and provide a glossy sheen. The color lightens back near to its original after some time outdoors. Every few wears, I wipe the boots down with a damp rag and brush away any dirt with a Horsehair Brush.
The cool thing about CXL is that you can rub away most scuffs/scratches because of the oils/waxes embedded in the leather. Down below is an example of superficial scuffs that went away after some VSC and brushing. I used a polished deer bone in circular motions in the area to create friction so the cream penetrates.
Here’s a rear heel counter shot of a few pairs. You can see that the natural chromexcel pair on the left has minimal creasing compared to the color 8 CXL and Olive Chromepak.
Compared to the other 3 pairs, the captoe on this makeup seems a bit shorter, but I hardly notice it when it’s not next to my other pairs.
In conclusion, I think that Natural Chromexcel is an easy to care for, interesting, and beautiful leather. The selection of hides that Viberg uses on their boots is second to none. If I were to only own one pair of Vibergs, this pair of boots would be it! Although this exact makeup isn’t readily available, a handful of retailers such as Lost & Found, Brooklyn Clothing, and the Viberg.com site recently have stocked a Service Boot with this leather.