Shell Cordovan is a common form of leather used in shoemaking. This leather is taken from horses; however, unlike many other leathers which are formed from the hide of an animal, shell cordovan leather is formed from a subcutaneous layer of muscle that lies just below the posterior hide of a horse.
Shell cordovan is prized both for its rarity and its durability. It is the least porous of all the leathers and thus is prized for its use both in shoes as well as gloves. A single horse only produces enough material to make one pair of shoes, thus this leather is quite expensive.
Unlike less expensive leathers, shell cordovan gains a patina as it ages. Whereas other leathers will show signs of wear in the form light discoloration or stress fractures; cordovan leather takes on a rich patina.
Though less popular, belts are another common use of the leather; it is, however, impossible to get a single stretch of leather long enough to create an entire belt. The hallmark of a true shell cordovan belt is a seam that joins two pieces of leather.
Horween Leathers has the distinction of being the last tannery that produces cordovan leather in the US. In an industry that has seen its fair share of automation and manufacturing advances, cordovan leather is the one holdout that has not been touched by modernity. Producing shell cordovan leather is still an artisanal process that requires years of training to perfect.