This may be the first time you’ve heard of shagreen and you wonder what this leather with a rather original name can be. In the rest of this article, we’ll define shagreen and how it is produced. We will then look at the origin of shagreen and its different uses through the ages, to discover the different inventions that can emerge from a single material. Finally, we will tell you about different alternatives to shagreen like faux shagreen fabric.
What is shagreen leather?
Shagreen is a leather that comes from fish and marine animals such as stingrays and sharks. It is located halfway between the leather and the mineral which gives it greater resistance in comparison to leathers from mammals or reptiles. It has a microscopic texture with fibers that crisscross the same way fabrics are made. Its tanning is unique and different from traditional leathers with fibers arranged in parallel.
Shagreen from stingray is the most resistant type of shagreen because it has a very large grain which strengthens its tanning. On the other hand, shark shagreen consists of smaller grains that alternate its resistance and shrink enormously during its manufacture. This is what inspired Balzac for his work “The Wild Ass’s skin” in which the main protagonist finds a magical Shagreen from stingray that allows wishes to be granted but shrinks after they are fulfilled.
The skin of the above types of fish is covered with placoid scales which means they are made of enamel and dentin. There may be imperfections in the shagreen, all of which reveal the beauty and uniqueness of this leather. Indeed, it is possible that the scales of the shagreen leather are not uniform and give the illusion of having integrated pearls within the fabric itself. It is mainly this unexpected and transcendent distortion that defines the elegance of shagreen and makes it a true luxury product.
The use of fish skins as leather is a long-standing practice. The first objects made of this particular leather come from the Far East, in Japan more precisely. It was used to cover various utensils such as boxes, grips, and even swords. Shagreen made a first impression in Europe, especially in the 1930s, thanks to various artistic movements of the time. In 1985, it took on a whole new form, encompassing itself as an indispensable decorative element. Today, shagreen is still used mainly in interior decoration and leatherwork.
What is shagreen now commonly made from?
Ecological and ethical debates related to the use of leather from animal species lead us to question the existing alternatives. For example, it is easy to find faux shagreen leather made from materials such as resin molded with the shapes of the scales of the original shagreen. It is almost impossible to distinguish the true from the false and this allows for a more affordable price while respecting the species.