What is patina?

In browsing for a pair of leather shoes, surely you’ve noted how many different leather finishes are available today. Many shoes have a clean, single-color leather, where the stain is evenly distributed on the shoe leather. Others are distressed, or made to look like they’ve been worn from the get-go, and otherwise treated for a distinct finish.

All, regardless of the finish, will gain a patina over time.
The process of distressing or creating any other sort of unique finish creates a faux patina—a term that’s most technically used to describe an organic coating created from age or wear. It can happen on virtually any natural material from copper or brass to wood. (You know the green film that forms on old pennies? It qualifies as patina, according to Merriam-Webster. In the 17th century, the Italians derived the word to generally describe this corrosive effect on copper.) On leather items, it’s an element that many fashion experts feel adds character, which is perhaps why there’s a market for pre-distressed shoes or specially treated leather shoes, handbags and wallets.

what-is-patina

Patina can simply refer to the original leather finish

Leading designers in the distressed shoe market include Golden Goose for sneakers and The Frye Company for off-the-rack leather boots and shoes. In the luxury market, Berluti and Ferragamo are well known for their distinctive leather finishes, which they call patinas. Many made-to-order and bespoke shoe services allow patrons to customize their own finish or patina on various types of leather.
‘Antiquing’ is another term that’s been dispersed across the internet and used to describe the faux patina process, with DIY bloggers covering the topic heavily. Kirby Allison, an online personality who has captivated a YouTube audience of 200,000 subscribers and counting, is one such blogger. In this video from 2018, Allison teaches viewers how to add dimension to single-color leather dress shoes by applying a store-bought pigmented polish to a pair by Allen Edmonds.

More traditionally, patina refers to the natural beauty the material takes on with lots of wear

In the video, Kirby also points out that the most natural patina on leather or suede shoes occurs over a long period of time, as the leather ages and as you wear the shoes. If you try to maintain the shoes by polishing the leather (the practice is meant to preserve the freshness of the leather), this also helps to develop a rich patina. The nutrients from the solution build up in the areas that experience the most exposure to the elements, where they need the polish in the first place and must be re-polished over time.

But even without treatment, leather shoes will garner a patina, as the appearance comes mostly from exposure to air and light.

Since the effect that patina encapsulates varies so greatly depending on who you’re speaking with, it’s important to clarify how the term is being used in context, particularly when you’re conversing with a made-to-order or custom shoe designer. At Esquivel, the term ‘antiquing,’ which is used to create what I’ve established in this article as a faux patina, is achieved with hand-burnishing. We coat the shoes with several layers of dye until they become dark in the targeted areas.

We consider patina to be personal, and we go by a more textbook definition, which is a charming surface appearance of something that’s endured much use. To us, leather shoes get better as you use them, and patina can only be seen in its true form on a well-worn pair of shoes.

what-is-patina

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George Esquivel

George Esquivel

George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.