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Real or fake leather? How to tell the difference

It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between real and fake leather. The Quebec Furniture Manufacturers’ Association has a few tips to make it easier for you. 


It’s worth noting that the difficulty in telling the difference between real and fake stems from the fact the quality of imitation leather is constantly improving. Meanwhile, the various names used on the labels may also add to the confusion.


The ABCs of real leather

• Real leather comes from the middle part of the hide of the following animals: young cow, calf, buffalo, bull, goat, young goat, horse, foal, sheep, lamb, pig, peccary, etc.

• Names: real leather, genuine, aniline, nubuck, pigmented, wild, buckskin or by cast leather.

• Full grain aniline describes the highest and most expensive line of leather. “Full grain” means no retouching. Aniline is an oily liquid that maintains the leather’s suppleness. It’s very flexible and fragile leather, requiring considerable maintenance.

• Corrected grain leather means the leather’s surface has been sanded to remove the imperfections. This leather, which has a protective layer, is thicker and more resistant and the texture isn’t as natural. It is also less expensive than full grain aniline.

• Buffed leather, velour leather or nubuck is, in fact, full grain leather in a velour finish. It is waterproof but cannot be protected by film-forming products, so it is vulnerable in this regard. Crust leather is sometimes used in making this leather.

• Pigmented crust leather or split leather (by cast): even though it’s of animal origin the crust is not actually leather, because it’s the internal part of the hide and not the surface. The crust is coated in a very thick polyurethane and its finish is glossier and more rigid; experts don’t recommend for furniture making it because of its fragility.



Fake or faux leather

• Synthetic leather is composed of plastic or vinyl and is used as an imitation for leather.

• Names: vegan leather, leatherette, eco leather, pleather, skai, corfam, ultra suede, fabrikoid, leather permeable, simulated leather or American leather fabric

• Artificial leather is not porous; it prevents air from going through, thus sweat can build up, causing discomfort.



How to tell the difference between real and fake leather

Golden rule – Don’t blindly believe what people tell you; take a look at the label, which will tell you a lot!

Otherwise, heed the following advice:


1. In choosing furniture made in Québec, you’ll probably find upholstery samples in the store. You just have to look on the back of the sample: the back with real leather will have a suede texture, as shown in the photo on the right.

If the back is a fabric, it’s fake leather!


2. The price is also a good indicator: if the couch that has captured your fancy is under $1000, it’s definitely not in real leather.


3. Remember, too, that a piece of furniture may include various types of upholstery: for example, the seat and backrest cushions might be in real leather while the back of the furniture might be in vinyl. The label should note the different types of upholstery.