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Nappa Leather: What It Is and Where It’s Used?

Nappa Leather: What It Is and Where It’s Used?

The Perfection of a Craft

Humanity’s story is the story of evolution. Through the corridors of thousands of years, we have thrown ourselves into the future, progressing sometimes with stuttering steps and at other times with striking successes. Some doors have opened with the ease of a gentle push and others have to be broken down while we weather the danger of broken splinters and whatever may lay on the other side of our fears.

Our story is one of stumbling towards perfection and excellence in all that we do, constantly trying to create something exemplary. Along our markedly unique path, riddled with the record of many failures, there remains the incandescence of incomparable achievements. What distinguishes us from the rest of nature is our unique ability to create. 

Even more, it is our ability to create and perfect a craft that sets us apart. In the vast haunts of history, there are many crafts which we’ve abandoned––indeed, more than we’ve kept. Inventions that were, at that time, the pinnacle of human creativity are now left to the wastes of the past, replaced by the remarkable inventions of later generations. 

Of course, this is not to disparage the past. In fact, quite the opposite. Precisely because of our ancestors and their sacrifices, we are enabled to build, construct, and improve upon what we’ve been given. As they say, we must remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and because of this, we can see farther down the road.

Some crafts are so brilliantly designed that they’ve persevered in a very similar form to their inception. Their beginnings are their ends. The leather itself is one of these materials that has resisted time’s challenge to change. There are few materials we can say are used in times of war and the luxury seats of cars, comprising the backpacks of brigades and the wallets of the upper-class, and now iPhone cases as well.

There are so many different types of leather. From Italian leather, perfected by the masters of Florence, to Aniline-dyed leather and its sisters, how can we tell the difference? Is there really a difference between all these leathers? It’s just leather, right? Andar is committed to informing you of all the qualities and differences between each of these leathers, so you can make an educated choice on what type of leather product you want to buy. First, we have to briefly investigate what constitutes the process of leather tanning, and how a young Jewish man residing in Napa California put the leather industry on an entirely new trajectory in 1871.

How Does Leather Tanning Work? A Brief History

Let’s quietly set aside the elephant standing between us. Yes, leather tanning conjures up images of modern processes of darkening skin. No, it has nothing to do with that. Now that the elephant is safely in the corner of our room, we can move on.

Our first records of leather tanning date back to the Early Stone Age (8000 BCE), where our ancestors first began to refine the art of leather cultivating. In Ancient Egypt, roughly five thousand years later, there were more leaps in leather consciousness, harvesting new modes of tanning that we still use today. 

The word tan refers to the dyeing process of leathers and the different forms of hide preservation. It derives from Gaulic use (yes, that long ago). As it happens, the city of ancient Rome – not yet an empire – further progressed the art of leather tanning in 800 CE, marking again another jump in the future.

The tanning process itself can be understood in a few simple steps. Tanning permanently alters the protein structure of the animal skin which prevents it from the decomposition process. It also involves the coloring of the skin. These skins are often salted and soaked in water and then treated with an acidic compound that uses tannins. 

However, in 1858 chromium tanning was invented and leather tanning was further advanced by significantly speeding up the process (relegating it to under a day), and forming the leather to be more supple and workable.

The Invention of Nappa Leather

After the revolution of chromium leather tanning, a man by the name of Emanuel Manasse, who immigrated to America from Germany in 1864, comes along. He began working for Sawyer Tanning Co. in Napa California (hence the name). At that time, it was the largest tanning company west of the Mississippi. 

At their peak, they produced around 300,000 hides a year, or 1,000 hides per day. Not long after, Manasse became a partner in the Sawyer Tanning Co. and invented the Nap-a-Tan waterproofing process. He championed what we now call Nappa leather. Manasse’s Nappa leather is no ordinary leather. Thus, there is little question why we’ve only minimally altered his process to this day. Why change perfection?

What Sets Nappa Leather Apart?

Unlike other leathers, Manasse’s perfection of the chromium tanning process created a leather that is incomparably supple, soft, and exceptionally pliable. Manasse was a rare breed of artist and his leather is a rare work of art. It was truly a reflection of his pioneering drive, naturally expressing his rugged individualism and endlessly artisanal quality.

Nappa leather possesses singular durability and incredible water resistance due to Manasse’s trademark tanning process. Sourced from sheep, goats, lambs, or calves, it is crafted using only the top layer of the hide which is softer and more durable than any of the other layers. Because of its unique tanning process, Nappa leather is particularly soft, contrasting starkly to standardized pigment leather because of how soft it feels to the touch. Because it is sourced from younger animals, the natural softness of their hides compounds to make Nappa leather a luxury item.

Additionally, Nappa leather is extremely water-resistant and naturally repellant to spills of any kind. Likewise, it has the added benefit of acting as a hypoallergenic, saving you from any dust attacks in the near future.

Nappa leather is always exclusively full-grain leather, which retains all the texture from the original hide and preserves the integrity of the hide, rather than suturing together a bunch of foreign pieces into one singular entity. “Genuine” leather is a lesser quality product because of the amalgam of different leathers which are grafted in to make it, while full-grain leather — and Nappa leather at that — is the highest quality leather that can be sourced. At Andar, full-grain leather is the only leather we use for our products.

How To Know Nappa Leather Today

Now that Manasse’s tanning process has become so popular, ubiquitously affecting the entire leather industry, it makes it increasingly difficult to precisely distinguish between Nappa leather and any other type of leather. The descriptor “Nappa'' when applied to leather nowadays is just used to describe an intensely soft, supple, and durable tanned cut of hide. In other words, it is now a moniker intended to denote a particularly luxurious quality of leather, tanned perfectly with all the unique characteristics: soft, flexible, durable, and opulent.

When Is Nappa Leather Used?

Nappa leather is a luxury product, often used in the likes of recherché jackets, designer gloves, handbags, shoes, and furniture. Moreover, many luxury car owners search for an interior made from Nappa leather because of its unmatched riding experience, comfortable, smooth, and made to resist the wear of time and use. Mercedes, BMW, Lamborghini, Audi, Porsche, Rolls-Royce. Everyone chooses Nappa leather as they design their vehicles, and knowing what we do, there’s no wonder why.


All in all, Nappa leather is a general term for any leather that’s especially durable and uniquely soft. Because of the eventual universalization of the improved tanning process invented by Emmanuel Manasse, Nappa leather isn’t a term meant to determine one type of leather, but the quality of leather. 

It is the highest quality of leather due to its unique water and dust resisting abilities, and its unbelievably velvety soft character. The reason these two together are so important is that the more supple a product is normally the more fragile it is. Special and gentle care is required. 

But not so with Nappa leather: it is precisely because of its soft flexibility and its resilience that it qualifies as a premium luxury item. And even if in the coming years Manasse’s Nappa tanning method is surpassed, your Andar Nappa product will endure.



Emanuel Manasse: Pioneer Jewish Tanner of Napa, California – JMAW – Jewish Museum of the American West | JMAW

What's So Special About Napa Leather? | The News Wheel

Nappa Leather - Pro Restorers - Leather Encyclopaedia | Pro Restorers