Nappa Leather: The Ultimate guide To This Soft Supple Leather

What is Nappa leather?

Did you know? - The name of the Napa Valley in California was derived from an attempt by settlers to pronounce words from the local Wappo and Patwin Native American tribes.

A man pressing leather

Selected Nappa leather hides are used to create Napa leather that mostly comes from kid, calf, cow, lamb, or other skin. Full-grain leather is preferred as it is the softest and most durable part of the hide.

Nappa leather is made from the outermost layer of the hide, which may typically sport a few imperfections or blemishes but using top-grain or corrected leather which both constitute a different grain structure, will not reach the same level of softness or durability as full-grain leather. 

Napa leather is considered to be a high-quality, luxurious leather that is expensive and is typically used in luxury motor vehicles and fashionwear like gloves, shoes, jackets, and accessories like belts, wallets, handbags, and briefcases. 

A brief history of the origin of Nappa leather.

The name of the Napa Valley in California was derived from an attempt by settlers to pronounce words from the local Wappo and Patwin Native American tribes.

The city of Napa was founded in 1847 but was only recognized as Napa, California, after 1849, when California was granted statehood.

Prior to 1849, official documents show Napa spelled as Nappa, but after statehood was announced, the spelling changed to Napa.

Emanuel Manasse was born in Germany in 1842 and moved to Napa in 1871. He was the son of a leather tanner in Germany and continued the family trade in the U.S. By 1880, Manasse had become a partner in the Swayer Tanning Company in Napa.

It is believed that Manasse began producing Napa leather in 1875 to be used specifically for glove making. The term Napa or Nappa leather was derived from the area where it was first produced.

close up of a nappa leather shoe

Lambskin Vs. Calfskin leather.

Both lambskin and calfskin leather is high-quality luxury leathers, but there are some remarkable differences that ultimately determine their application.

Lambskin leather is very soft and has a buttery feel to it. 

It is also a lightweight and delicate leather, yet in spite of its thinness, it is windproof and stands up to cold climates better than most other synthetic materials.

Calfskin leather is firmer than lambskin and is more consistent in terms of softness and durability.

Being stronger makes calfskin leather better for harsh conditions and can withstand abrasions better than lambskin leather.

Generally speaking, lambskin leather is more suited to garments like jackets and coats, while calfskin leather is more suited to accessories like shoes, handbags, wallets, belts, and other accessories.

Calfskin leather being firmer, is able to retain its shape much better, making it better suited to items that need to hold their shape, like shoes and handbags.

Both lambskin and calfskin leather is strong leathers that will last for years, but like all leather products, they need to be looked after.

Regular cleaning, conditioning, and proper storage will ensure many more years of use.

Couple sitting wearing Nappa leather shoes

The Nappa tanning process.

There are three main steps to producing leather. They include preparing the hide, tanning the leather, and finishing the leather.

The tanning process of Nappa leather is what makes it so uniquely soft, smooth, and durable.

Chromium or aluminum sulfates and salts are used in the process and contribute significantly to the softness of the final product. 

Dying Nappa leather is done with water-soluble dyes, which help to limit color fading and makes it easier to clean the leather. 

What is really great about Nappa leather is that it is made from full-grain unsanded hides that show visible grain, giving it a natural texture.

This characteristic makes Nappa leather hypoallergenic, which bodes well for luxury car seats and other personal items.

Leather tanning can include up to 25 steps and may take from days to months to complete depending on the process used.

Nappa leather tanning only takes a few days using the Chromium process, which produces soft, flexible, and durable leather. Furthermore, the Chromium process promotes water-soluble dyes to take well to the leather.

Nappa Leather shoe repairs.

Using a cream polish usually helps eliminate minor scuff marks on Nappa leather shoes, but deeper gouges or scratches may require more than a few layers of polish.

To deal with more severe scratches on your Nappa leather, there is a resin-based formulation available in multiple colors that can be used to fill deep scratches.

Once dry, the filling will not give off any color and will not come off either. Below are the four steps to easy shoe repair:

Step one: 

Evaluate the scratch. If the scratch is not too deep, it can be treated with "Saphir Renovating Repair cream," If it's a large area that needs attention, the repair cream can be mixed with a bit of cream polish.

Step Two

Trim any loose leather. If loose leather strands are, trim them flush with the shoe or use fine grade sandpaper to smooth out the damaged area 

Step three:

  1. Apply the repair cream and rub it in using your fingertip.
  2. Use a massaging motion and try to smooth out the cream over the affected area. If the damage is deep into the leather, you may have to add some cream polish to the repair cream.
  3. Allow the smoothed-out repaired area to dry.

Step Four:

Polish your shoes. Polishing your shoes helps conceal the repair area, and the wax in the cream polish will help protect your shoes. Regular polishing helps regulate the humidity content of the leather, which adds longevity to your shoes and keeps them flexible.

Palermo leather vs. Nappa leather.

Palermo leather is tanned in Northern Italy using an age-old process of vegetable tannins and dyes.

The rich color is pronounced by the many layers of finishing waxes applied to the leather. The sheer beauty of Palermo leather is sought after for luxury motor vehicle seats and trimming as well as luxury home furnishings.

The hand-produced nature of Italian leather gives it a unique patina that personifies the idea of handcraftsmanship. 

Nappa leather is tanned using a different, faster process that involves chemicals aimed at uniformed softness and flexibility.

The tanning process does not diminish the quality of the leather at all. On the contrary, the dyeing and finishing processes are made more accessible.

It is argued that Nappa does not have genuine Italian leather's natural look and feel.

This could be viewed as a subjective judgment that should be considered based on the actual tanning process and not the finishing process, where layers are added to the raw tanned leather for protection and aesthetics. 

Both Palermo and Nappa leather is considered luxury leathers that offer quality and uniqueness to any final application.

a women wearing nappa leather shoes

Nappa leather durability.

Full-grain leather refers to the top layer of the hide, which is the strongest part of the hide due to the closely bound fibers designed for protection.

This outer layer is called natural grain, and the tightly packed fibers make the leather very strong and durable.

Nappa is made from this top or outer layer of the hide, which explains the strength and durability of this luxury leather. 

Nappa is a high-quality leather that can easily be cleaned with a damp cloth and treated periodically with a leather conditioner to enhance its lifespan.

An important fact is that Nappa absorbs water very slowly, and wiping spilled liquid away helps to prevent damage or staining.

What add to the durability of Nappa leather is that it is breathable and hypoallergenic, which prevents mold build-up or growth.

The downside to Nappa leather is that although it is durable, it is still subjected to bleaching damage from the sun like other leathers.

Nappa may be considered durable, but it requires the proper leather care to prevent irreversible damage like peeling. 

The leather can rip and tear with rough use and be costly to repair.

Durable refers to normal wear and tear, including routine maintenance or care.


Leather will last for generations as long as the use is not excessive and cared for it correctly.

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