The return of Shagreen
If you are at all attuned to the design or fashion world, chances are you are already aware of shagreen, the exotic leather that has been making waves in both industries. These days, shagreen most commonly refers to the rawhide of stingray; a leather whose natural texture looks most like smoothly sanded pebbles speckled with pearl. In addition to the aesthetic and tactile allure of Shagreen, it also happens to be an incredibly durable skin, ranking “25 times more durable than cowhide leathers,” (as according to Roje Leather, one of the top shagreen importers).
Thus, it is no surprise that shagreen has long been prized by various cultures throughout history, and widely associated with luxury, elegance and prosperity. Centuries ago, samurai incorporated the sacred and durable skin into their armor, onto the handles of their swords and the covers of their hilts, and shagreen armor and accessories were even discovered in the tombs of pharaohs from ancient Egyptian societies. In the 18th century, Jean Claude Galluchat, the French leather artisan, crafted the luxurious material into accessories of all kinds for King Louis XV. From book bindings, to snuff boxes to eye-glasses, King Louis XV and his wife’s love for shagreen immediately made the leather into a chic and fashionable commodity among the greater European aristocracy.
In recent times, stingray leather – often stylized, sanded, painted, and/or glossed – has found its way back into mainstream culture, most commonly by way of high-fashion items, jewelry, trendy accessories, and various types of furniture. The exotic and highly prized leather is sustainably harvested in Asia, where stingrays are in no danger of extinction and are primarily harvested for food, therefore no part of the animal is wasted.