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The Different Exotic Skin Varieties

When you buy something that uses animal skins, you’re buying authentic luxury. Each type is as unique as its wearer, with details and texture that admirers can’t help but touch. Designers love to work with the different exotic skin varieties because they transform each garment into a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Rare skins and luxury brands go hand in hand. Louis Vuitton crafts briefcases from ostrich skin, and Tom Ford makes sneakers with alligator. Hermès uses exotic leathers for their most legendary bags, and the most expensive Birkin ever sold was a white crocodile version that called to mind “snow-capped Himalayan mountains.” That description was from Christie’s, which auctioned it for about $400,000.

Exotic skins are so rare that they comprise less than 1 percent of the leather trade. Cow leather, of course, has the majority share, while the “exotic” category includes the varieties below, as well as animals such as emu, camel, python, elephant, and even chicken legs. Designers recognize the continuing demand and have begun to acquire animal farms and tanneries to source their own leathers.

There’s more than one way to create a luxe, soft leather jacket, so why not set yourself apart with the most valuable and striking exotic skins you can buy? With so many choices, you’re sure to find a handcrafted masterpiece that brings out your wild side.

Alligator

People may confuse it with crocodile skin, but alligator skins are more difficult to source responsibly, and the scale patterns are actually very distinct. Alligator skin has larger scales that become smaller in disordered patterns. It’s soft but doesn’t stretch out—the hard scales are almost bony in structure. Alligator skin is smoother than crocodile. Buffed up to a high shine, it embodies old-world elegance with edgy, fashion-forward potential. It’s delicate and elegant enough to elevate a woman’s pocketbook and sturdy enough to become a man’s favorite dress shoe for decades.

Alligator in Action: Kendall Jenner likes to throw on a pair of $7,500 white gloss alligator ankle booties with her vintage Levi’s.

Crocodile

The most obvious difference between crocodile and alligator skin is that crocodiles have hair follicles—you can see the remaining dot-sized hole of one on each scale. Their patterns are more consistent and symmetrical, a series of rectangles that suggest a more conservative and stately vibe than alligators. In reality, they’re no such thing; crocodiles can grow to 2,200 pounds and have evolved by fending off anacondas and tigers. They eat alligators for breakfast. Crocodile handbags have never gone out of style, and the rugged look of the skin makes it a natural for items that need to be sturdier, such as boots and briefcases.

Crocodile in Action: When Jay-Z collaborated with Barney’s for the Shawn Carter Collection, the priciest offering was a $58,000 black crocodile skin moto jacket.

Lizard

This is one of the rarer skins that designers use in clothing and accessories because it can be so delicate. Lizard functions more often as an accent in combination with something more durable, like cow leather. Different species have scale shapes and sizes that vary from round to square and rectangular. If you’re picturing a tiny reptile that would fit in your hand, though, you’re way off base. Nile and Teju lizard skins are some of the most popular, and these animals can grow to three square feet. Designers love using lizard skin because it’s so thin—no more than .66 mm thick—and pliable. It takes special care to ensure that the skin doesn’t peel or dry out.

Lizard in Action: Lizard skin may be less expensive than other exotic skins because so many celebrities are already wearing it.

Ostrich

Ostrich skin has an unmistakable pattern, thanks to the large follicles remaining from feathers. It’s a coveted material for upholstery in high-end cars and the most masculine way to incorporate polka dots into a luxe look. Ostrich skin is thick and durable, with natural oils in the leather that keep it soft and prevent cracking. Over time, the skin can darken, so many clothiers dye it brighter colors to take advantage of the texture without losing impact.

Ostrich in Action: In Paul Manafort’s 2018 tax-evasion trial, a significant portion of the testimony centered on one luxury item: a $15,000 ostrich jacket that took 30 hours to make. It was part of a single-day, $102,000 spending spree for Manafort.

Snake

This is a category that encompasses all kinds of snakes with very different appearances. Python, cobra, and sea snake are three of the most common, but you can also find boa constrictor, kingsnake, anaconda, and more. Bigger is better in the fashion industry if you want enough skin to cover an entire garment. Like lizards, snakes’ skin is delicate without protective treatment but still adds an element of danger to accessories like purses and cowboy boots.

Snake in Action: A snakeskin jacket had a star-making turn in 1990’s “Wild at Heart”: the slick python blazer came from Nicolas Cage’s personal collection and inspired the line, “For me, it’s a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.”

Stingray

Stingray skin is the toughest exotic leather, immune to scratches and even attempted punctures. It doesn’t stain and is, of course, naturally water-resistant. It can be tricky for designers to find panels large enough to match and even harder to sew them, but you can find stingray skin on shoes and purses as well as motorcycle seats. It has a subtle, bumpy texture that looks particularly spectacular with ombre dye.

Stingray in Action: Drake sleeps on a $400,000 mattress made of stingray skin and horsehair when he stays at his Toronto mansion. Its designer markets it as the Grand Vividus bed, but Drake received the first one.

There’s no way to replicate the random beauty of nature, which is why tastemakers have sought after the different exotic skin varieties for centuries. Dudes Boutique understands the power of exotic skin, whether it takes the form of a sumptuous jacket or an accent on a dress shoe. Contact us to find unique pieces that speak to your spirit and style.

The Different Exotic Skin Varieties
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