Cowhide has been Il Bisonte’s signature material since the brand was founded. It is high quality leather attained through the natural technique of vegetable tanning, an ancient procedure that has been practiced in Tuscany for millennia.
Cowhide comes from the shoulder of the adult bovine – the most valuable part of the animal for making leather goods – and is distinguished by its softness, scent and golden patina that emerges over time.
Made in Italy, all the cowhide leather used to make Il Bisonte bags and accessories has been purchased for the past fifty years from the same artisan tanneries in Santa Croce sull’Arno, the oldest and most important Italian manufacturing district dedicated to leather production.
Quality takes time and cowhide is no exception. No fewer than 20 days pass from when the salt-preserved raw hides begin to be processed to when they are ready to be used.
The entire production process takes place within the tannery.
Once selected, the hides are first washed and rehydrated. Then they are put into drums, large cylindrical containers in weathered and watertight wood, similar to gigantic washing machines. Here, lime is used to eliminate hair and epidermis. The leather is ready for lime-removal, maceration and degreasing, which take place through numerous steps in different drums.
The cowhide is then processed with animal fats and treated with tannin and anilines, both plant-based, and then left to dry.
After the drying period comes the finishing process: in order to optimize quality and appearance a fundamental process called “follonatura” is carried out. It is a dry procedure (without water) that uses heat to break up the inner fibers of the leather, making it particularly soft to the touch. During this phase it is decided whether to highlight a particular grain or make it more homogeneous to the eye.
Tanners repeat this all the time: in order to really understand the quality and authenticity of a cowhide leather bag or accessory, you have to put it to the test of time. Immediately after tanning, in fact, it is not easy to distinguish chemically tanned from vegetable-treated leather. The only persuasive proof of its naturalness is its ability to age beautifully.
Any change in the cowhide that occurs over time, making it become more and more beautiful, is largely due to the tannin, the oldest secret of vegetable tanning magic.
Tannin is a natural substance that is extracted from the bark, leaves or roots of certain plants such as chestnut, mimosa and quebracho. Used in leather processing, it helps warm colors, forest scents, surprising softness and unexpected resistance to emerge from the leather.
When all Il Bisonte cowhide products age they do not degenerate, even those dyed from their natural color.
Bags and accessories made from vegetable-tanned cowhide leather have an extraordinary characteristic: they absorb the experience of those who use them.
This magic, which makes each cowhide object unique, is the fruit of exceptional alchemy generated by the ever-changing combination of leather, sunlight and the daily life of each individual. The passage of time changes and ages the leather, giving it a glorious golden patina whose evocative intensity bears witness to the stories every life has to tell.
Choosing to wear a cowhide bag means giving yourself a magical, unique gift that will last a lifetime.
No animal is killed specifically to produce cowhide. The hides Il Bisonte uses are derived exclusively from animals killed for food and which would create serious disposal problems it they weren’t used.
Il Bisonte cowhide is completely vegetable-tanned. This means that neither chromium nor other substances which are harmful to man and the environment are used for its production. The ban of toxic agents such as azo dyes, nickel and pentachlorophenol reduces the risk of intolerances related to the daily use of bags and small leather goods which are well tolerated even by those allergic to heavy metals.
Thanks to its chemical-biological characteristics, vegetable-tanned cowhide can be easily disposed of.
Even most of the substances used in leather-processing are reclaimed, processed and reused in other sectors. The hair removed from raw hides, for example, is reused in agriculture as a fertilizer, while the sludge from the purifiers is reused to produce bricks.
Il Bisonte uses only full-grain leather, the most natural in its category and among the most valuable on the market. Its typical wrinkles and small superficial inconsistencies testify to its naturalness and high quality.
In addition to classic cowhide, Il Bisonte also uses “vintage cowhide” which undergoes a special process that further softens the skin and immediately gives it a lived-in effect. Vintage cowhide is mainly used in the men’s collections and for sportier designs.
Metallic cowhide leather, which is obtained by applying a coloured vegetable film, ages like any other without the typical “peeling” that can occur with chemically-treated colored leather.
The special and unique characteristics of cowhide allow it to be used to create leather bags and accessories that require great craftsmanship such as hand stitching, inked edges and well crafted binding edges.
The art of vegetable tanning has prehistoric origins, well documented throughout Tuscany. In ancient times, cowhide, thanks to its extraordinary resistance to wear, was mainly used to make shoes for shepherds and soldiers, and sacks for hunting.
The tanning process already had strict rules in place by the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. They had been established by the Arte Minore dei Cuoiai (Tanners Guild) Statute since the inception of the Arts and Corporations of the Florentine Republic. The statute was for master craftsmen who were heirs to the centuries-old process of mixing plant-extracted tannins and manually working and handcrafting leather.