Jan 2, 2014

Leather- real or fake?

As an interior designer, I do a great deal of research on products so I can always guide clients when they need accurate advice.  Recently, a client wanted to add a few chairs to her kitchen table that updated the space for under $500.  She had seen some online  retailers offer seating labeled 'leather' or 'bicast leather'.  The prices were so  reasonable she thought,  "Wow, I can buy 6 chairs on line for the same price as 3 in a local shop." Really... it would be easier for me to explain to you what bicast leather is not: leather. It's similar to the comparison  between MDF - medium density fiberboard- and wood.  Many things can be made with it, it looks good, but it isn't real, it's man made. 

Bicast begins with the parts of the leather hide that are unusable in traditional leather work. The parts of hide are coated with colored polyurethane and then embossed with a leather-like texture. The only portion of the material that was actual leather from the cow isn’t even visible when the process is complete.  The chair above is Bicast. 
Leather is a beautiful, timeless material for a couple reasons. Every hide is unique and leather ages well. Bicast, on the other hand, does not age well. It cracks and peels to the individual layers after a bit of wear. Texture is actually embossed by a press on the surface so distressing is manufactured. However,  Bicast leather isn’t horrible. If you are adverse to killing cows but still love the characteristics of leather, a well-constructed bicast alternative is ideal. If you just want to spend less, that works too.  Some chair seats done in Bicast can be virtually undetectable as non-genuine.  If you can’t tell by simply touching it, and there is no further information available regarding the retailers leather process, put your nose close to the material and inhale. You can not fake a genuine leather smell and the urethane makes Bicast smell like chemicals.
Buyer beware.  Labels are not always accurate and apparently mis-labeling is not illegal in some countries. Price will often be your best guide. A real leather dining chair would be $2-300 at best.  Bicast, maybe $100.  If the label says leather and the price does not, you will get what you pay for and it's not genuine leather.  The stitching and edges can also help guide you; like the chair below, you can see the cut end of the hide.  If the description sounds too good to be true for the price, it probably is!