What Is Clemence Leather?

Benna Crawford

A touch or a ton of opulence defines your taste and hints at your affluence. Adding sumptuous material to your decor takes it up a notch.

Clemence leather is the skin of a baby bull, un veau clemence taurillon, a very soft, flexible prominently grained leather, famously used for coveted Hermes Birkin bags and Chanel shoes. Clemence is an extravagance, a rich surface that says "luxury" wherever it is used. When you've finished hanging it off your arm and decorating your feet with it, consider the perks and practicalities of using clemence leather to decorate your home.

A Cautionary Tale

The fine-pebbled grain -- not so fine as similar togo leather -- will show some scratches and definitely has an aversion to water. Water will cause the leather to blister and may create blemishes that can't be repaired. Wipe off any water immediately and avoid using it anywhere that it might come in contact with water, such as a tray or an ottoman pressed into temporary service as a snack table. Clemence, as a substantial hide, is heavy but not stiff. An unsupported object made with the leather -- a handbag, satchel or down-stuffed pillow as opposed to a stool or upholstery -- will sag, casually and attractively. If clemence shows any cracking around the edges of an object due to wear, it is durable enough to be refurbished.

Very Uptown Upholstery

Cover the chaise in clemence when the children are grown and gone and before the grandchildren arrive. Everyday use could be hard on the leather, and its choice as upholstery material represents a significant investment. You'll need an interior designer who caters to the bespoke crowd for access to hard-to-obtain fabrics, or furniture made with clemence. And expect to pay handsomely for the privilege. The Hermes La Maison 3-seater bench with clemence leather sling seats retailed for more than $20,000 in 2015. A simple armchair of ebonized wood and red or black clemence, a modern interpretation of a Renaissance Savonarola curule, carried a price tag of nearly $14,000.

Bag It in Bits

Since leather comes in hides, not woven rolls, it is typically purchased for upholstery in square feet, not yards. Covering an entire piece of furniture in clemence leather will be an expense -- you might enjoy clemence accents if the outlay for a chair or sofa takes your breath away. Decorative pillows, picture frames, lampshades and other small objects are elegant when clad in designer leather -- and clemence takes dye readily so you get a wide selection of colors. If you do want a larger marquee piece, convert fabric yardage to leather square feet to calculate the amount you need. An ottoman averages about 5 yards or 92.5 square feet. A dining room chair that takes 4 yards of fabric needs 74 square feet of leather. A love seat at 12 to 13 yards of brocade or linen would require 222 to 240.5 square feet of baby bull hide.