Over the past several years, we’ve seen Canadian bootmaker Viberg enlist legendary Chicago tannery Horween to showcase some incredibly intriguing leathers, many of which cannot be found anywhere else, from Crust Horsehide Chromexcel, to Unglazed Color 8 Shell Cordovan, to Essex and Dublin (veg-tan) Workshoe Butt.
But the latest collaboration between these two is perhaps the most “ok what are we talking about here” yet: Natural Crust Double Cordovan. Brett Viberg asked Nick Horween to produce “a leather that is rugged, yet has the properties of shell cordovan.” And Double Cordovan is the result.
But uh…what in the heck is it? Where does it fit in the pantheon of horsebutt and shell cordovan leathers? What are the specs of today’s limited-edition Service Boot pre-order? We spoke with Brett Viberg—who shared a bunch of documentation from Nick Horween—and pretty much got to the bottom of things…
What Is Natural Crust Double Cordovan?
In a purely technical sense, this equine leather could kind of, almost, maybe be considered a crust shell cordovan that has simply been left significantly more unfinished than a regular shell cordovan article.
While there’s slightly more to it than this, the crux of the leather is that it: 1) starts out with the exact same cut of hindquarter equine leather as shell cordovan, and 2) is tanned basically the exact same way, and for the same amount of time, as shell cordovan, although 3) it’s not shaved nearly as much as shell cordovan, and therefore leaves that shell layer unexposed. Which means you’re looking at hide, not shell, if that makes sense.
Viberg claims Double Cordovan to be the heaviest leather they have ever worked with in their 92-year history. Double Cordovan clocks in at a kinda ridiculous thickness of 3.5 to 4mm. In comparison, Horween’s Shell Cordovan (which must now always be referred to as “Single Shell Cordovan”…jk that would be ridiculous) is typically no more than 1.8mm.
Since it’s a crust leather—with no dyes applied at all—this Double Cordovan displays a high degree of natural character and variation. The unfinished state also means it will be very prone to darkening and burnishing with regular wear.
How Is Double Cordovan Made?
Double Cordovan has been produced in a similar fashion to Horween’s shell cordovan. Much like shell, the hide is pit-tanned with tree bark extracts for 60 days, hot-stuffed with waxes and greases, hand-oiled, and then left to cure and age for another three months.
In Horween shell cordovan tanning, a hide typically gets the excess horsebutt layers shaved away to expose the fibrous membrane layer sandwiched in the middle—the shell itself. Double Cordovan, in comparison, has been only partially shaved. The secondary stage of shaving, where the shell becomes fully exposed, has been skipped, leaving the shell layer still mostly covered by the exterior horsebutt hide.
Additionally, each piece has been cut so that every square foot of the hide contains the shell layer, unlike Workshoe Butt or other horsebutt leathers, which may have only partial areas with shell inside. To find the best yield possible for this particular project, Nick Horween took the time to find pieces containing the largest shells with the smallest amount of scarring or other cosmetic defects.
Obviously, with some of the horsebutt exterior still intact, it’s not a “true” shell cordovan leather. On the other hand, calling it a variant of Workshoe Butt doesn’t quite seem right, either. Workshoe Butt is typically combination-tanned with both chromium salts and tree barks (à la Chromexcel), and it doesn’t get shaved at all. Double Cordovan exists somewhere in between, making it all the more unique.
What Are The Specs Of These Double Cordovan Service Boots?
While the leather itself is something of a wildcard, Viberg is playing things fairly safe with a classic Service Boot makeup. This model is built on the 2030 last, and since it’s available as a pre-order, customers can select it in a narrow D width, the standard E width, or a wider EE width. Additional features include a brogued cap-toe, antique brass eyelets, a 270 stitchdown construction, and brown Ridgeway soles.
In addition to the boots, each order will come with…colored pencils and a coloring book? Somehow that’s true; Viberg is apparently embracing their crafty side. This coloring book features multiple illustrations depicting the Viberg Service Boot from all sorts of angles—the idea is to give owners of these Double Cordovan Service Boots a chance to illustrate how their footwear evolves and patinates as they wear in. Ok!!
The whole package can be yours for $1,544. Viberg mentions that they have extremely limited quantities of this leather, and we’re not sure if we’ll be seeing it again.