An Alsatian tannery
The slopes of the Rhine valley are covered in row after row of vines. The wine they make here has a character all of it’s own - Rieslings and Gewurztraminers with distinctive floral notes. And the beer isn’t the lager enjoyed in so much of France but a deep, hoppy amber.
Alsace has a character all of it’s own, and the same’s true of the calf they tan: supple but strong, the calfskins of the Rhine valley are a leather apart. And this is where we source our delapré and utah leathers, chosen for shoes with a soft natural finish, rather than a high shine.
For 170 years Haas has been tanning leather amidst the vines of the Rhine and now it’s run by the 6th generation of the family. Unlike so many modern tanneries they start with the rawest of raw materials – the salted hides of the calves. Every calf is French – they tend to come from the country’s main cattle-farming areas, the Dordogne and green fields of Brittany. Charolais and Montbeliard are two of the preferred breeds sought out by farmers for the quality of their meat and by the tanner for the tightness of the skin’s grain.
The tanners work through the skins in the beamhouse or atelier de rivière: first removing the hair, turning into a smooth, rehydrated pelt before stabilizing the pelt through tanning with chrome. Now this is a wet-blue: stable, clean and ready to be coloured and finished to the customer’s requirements.
The artisans sort through the skins and carefully choose what’s suitable for the required end purpose. Less than ten percent of the skins that come to the tannery can be selected to make our delapré. A product this natural needs to be unmarked - no hint of surface damage
The artisans sort through the skins and carefully choose what’s suitable for the required end purpose. Less than ten percent of the skins that come to the tannery can be selected to make our delapré. A product this natural needs to be unmarked - no hint of surface damage - but it also needs to be sufficiently thick for that full, rounded feel that sets the leather apart.
The skins are re-tanned in a mix of chestnut, mimosa and quebracho – differing combinations according to the tanner's time-tested judgment. Tanning in organic compounds –‘veg’ tanning – creates a leather that continues to develop as it ages, resulting in time with a characteristically handsome patina.
Delapré is then steeped in nine different fats for its signature suppleness. The French use a word moelleux – our guide Jacques says that he doesn’t believe there’s a direct translation, that it’s soft and forgiving, yet resilient.
Some of our skins go on to be printed into Utah, a soft hatch-grain which works particularly well with our iconic Galway boot. But most of the delapré we use is as natural as possible, no glazing or finishing, just the original grain of the calf from which it's made.