The History of Leather

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Leather has always played an important role in the development of our world’s civilisation; we use the finest leather to craft our bondage, but it’s not a new material. It has been traced back as early as the Paleolithic period. Primitive man would kill animals for food, but to get maximum usage out of the kill, they also skinned the animals. Even back then there were many different purposes for leather – it was used as clothing, armour, to hold liquid, as it kept water clean and cool and to provide shelter and carpeting, amongst other uses.

It was quickly discovered that the animal skins soon rotted and were no longer useful. Early man then found that the skins could be treated and preserved using different substances, such as tree bark, leaves or smoke from wood burning fires. They also learned that the skin would be tanned naturally from chemicals created by rotting vegetation if left on a damp forest floor,

The use of leather has been discovered throughout many important periods of our world’s history. The Egyptians had a huge number of uses, such as for clothes, buckets and armour. They also employed it as part of the process to bury their dead. The Romans also had many important requirements for leather. They used it for their military equipment – in shields and saddles for example, but the main element of a Roman’s soldiers protective uniform was a leather shirt. History also shows that the Greeks, Chinese and North American Indians had early methods of producing leather. The various processes have developed along with our scientific advancements. For example, the use of tree bark was replaced mainly by chrome tanning, a chemical process which accounts for most of the leather produced within our society today.

As time went on, more methods were invented to create different kinds of leather. In earlier societies, these methods were often kept within families as closely guarded secrets, but later on this changed so that one required a license to practise leather tanning.  As our world grew, the manufacture of leather and its uses soon grew also. A tannery existed in most villages and towns, and many of these still exist today. The profession was represented and supervised by a number of Craft Guilds. Master craftsmen, like those who work at Masters Desire today, would generally have apprentices working alongside them to help out and develop their skills.

Leather soon found its importance as a decorative medium. It was used to cover books, boxes and water bottles. Often these were beautifully decorated by making incisions and punches into the fabric. Sword and dagger cases were also made from leather, along with, of course, bondage items.

The popularity of leather continued to grow as our cultures and societies expanded and diversified. It has consistently proven itself due to its resistance to various weather conditions. Leather has long worked for us as a protective fabric. As well as its uses during the Roman times, cowboys have used leather chaps to protect them while riding, and in the present day most motorcyclists wear leather to protect them from road rash, forceful winds and because leather would offer more protection if they were to have an accident. It is also used in sports as part of the game in the form of balls or mitts, or to protect players.

Though leather has offered a huge number of uses throughout the ages, it has also become a firm favourite in the world of fashion. In the early 20th century, leather became a staple associated with men in the form of smart shoes and briefcases, and this then continued to develop into other forms of clothing. The most significant of these developments was the leather jacket. This has long been a symbol of youth and rebellion, and continues to be so in the present day.

We still think of Greasers in the 1950’s – the leather jacket was their uniform and a sign of their freedom. In the 1960’s British mods adopted a sleeker version of the leather jacket and rode around on mopeds. Leather has long been associated with punk, rock and metal music. As a symbol of anarchy, the leather jacket, along with other items of clothing (trousers and skirts for example) were picked up by the punk subculture in the 1970’s. This has long since developed and remains an extremely popular look today.

The role of leather within musical subcultures grew in the 1980’s and 90’s with the introduction of grunge music, however at the same time, the fabric was picked up by fashion houses. As well as its practical uses in day to day life, protective uses for bikers and sportsmen and the symbolic importance of what it represents for the rock subculture, leather is also an ever present feature on runways and in fashion magazines.

As it is such a versatile and resilient fabric, fashion designers soon saw an opening to create quality, timeless pieces that would last the owner a lifetime if cared for properly. Fashion labels soon developed their own versions of the popular leather jacket, along with other classic items such as men’s shoes and women’s heels, luggage, handbags, coats, wallets, belts and many others. It is also a symbol of prosperity. Leather is often used for the seating in luxury cars, and is used for other luxury items such as furniture and laptop and phone cases. We have come to associate soft, fine leather, such as the French calf leather found on our lined items, with an expensive and high flying lifestyle.

Leather has been a constantly enduring part of our world. It is an important part of many cultures, and acts as a symbol for all different aspects of life, depending on how it is used and represented. It continues to be used practically within our day to day lives, though the processes of creating and preserving leather have changed and grown. There are now many different types of leather and methods of preservation. The uses of leather are always evolving and as a fabric it continues to develop along with our modern world to constantly reflect us in the way we live.

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