Working in Alligator Skin – a Rare and Unique Process

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I don’t get the opportunity to work in Alligator Skin too often, it’s a very special ask.

Alligator skin is the priciest of the exotic skins and with good reason. 

It takes 4- 7 years for a farmed alligator to reach harvest size.  I would say for garments you are looking at the longer time frame due to the size of the panels needed for most garments.  A farmed 34cm alligator skin has an optimal cutting area of maybe one square foot if you are going to just use the belly, which is the most desirable part of the skin used for most handbags and small accessories. It’s requires tremendous skill to cut a garment within the small areas of farmed skins.

The tails can be sometimes utilized if they are clean, and they have a very cool scale pattern that I really like.  Even in a garment grade hide though, the tail area is going to be a little heavier and less pliable than the belly so cutting a garment that utilizes both requires great planning, skill and care.  It does help with yield and could bring down final expense – but it’s not always what someone wants. (or what will work in many projects.)  When you see an alligator skin garment with a 100G price tag, it should be cut strictly from the belly, and often in larger panels – there are a lot of skins in that piece! 

This alligator skin  jacket, which is roughly a 36/38 Short – took 12 hides and I was able to use both belly and tails. There was very little  leftover – a full belly cut jacket in this size would have required at least 20 hides.

Skins larger than 45cm are likely gonna be wild skins. I have no idea how many years it takes these guys to get to that size but wild skins are unlikely to be flawless, having battle and life scars, a clean wild skin is incredibly rare  – a very toothy unicorn!  Garments requiring larger panels- require larger skins, which are pricier than the smaller farmed skins –  and they are just not that easily available.

Then there is the finishing. The antiqued blue alligator skins were custom finished to the really dark, denim like indigo my client wanted – this took several shipments back and forth to get just right. Once the color is right -the final finishing is the same agate rubbed technique used by Hermes- this give the skins a soft sheen without looking overly shiny. The time spent on getting everything right is always worth it.

This alligator skin jacket evolved a bit from the original concept- (from over a year ago when my client first brought it up)  he initially had been thinking a shawl collar – then seeing the rough sketch realized he wanted to go more classic – He wanted a jacket he could wear anywhere, casual or not so much – dress up his fitted T’s and then some. 

The shade of blue also evolved- we both agreed it should be a really dark antiqued blue so the contrast between the lapel and detailing would be real subtle.  The tannery was nervous of going too dark – but it came out just perfect! (You can get an idea of how vivid the base blue is in the construction shots- VIVID!) 

The British Cupro skull lining my client chose – did not initially look like it would work.  To either of us.  But when the finished skins came in, it really pulled the whole thing together. It’s turns out the deep grey of the lining choice kinda takes on the shades around it. It is a beautiful combo.

Working with alligator skin is very different than leather- after perfecting the muslin,  just planning and plotting out the cut of the jacket took about a week. It’s really like figuring out a big puzzle. I want to mirror as much as possible the scale of the natural grain across the garment – aesthetically. And then since I am using the tails as well in this case utilize the weight of different areas of the skins according to areas of wear,  even when working in skins of the same ‘size’ – they are not going to be 100% consistent.

Then there are natural flaws in alligator skin that you have to work around or incorporate into unseen areas of the garment – in this case there were also minor corrections to color in one or two areas. And if a tiny hole winds up inside a hem – that still gets corrected and reinforced as invisibly as possible. I also went over each cut piece with a conditioner that imparts some water resistance and does not change the finish, while also ‘setting’ the very dark antiquing.  Like any super dark denim, a finish like this does have a bit of natural rub-off so the aim is to keep it to a minimum. 

Then there is the prepping- every leather garment has tons of interior work that you will never see,  interior construction to add shape, taping to prevent give. and on and on.  Alligator skin needs precise stitching and hem lines marked since you don’t always have an evenly sized allowance to work with. A ton of glueing,  pounding and in this case – actual wrestling!   And you can’t make a mistake. There is NO leeway. 

This jacket from start of pattern making, thru fittings, finalizing the pattern, ordering the skins, getting the color right and thru to final cutting and construction took 6 months.

Some of that time was extended due to Covid restrictions. I had fewer working hours since the studio building had limited hours, for quite a few months. And my formerly local vendor for the skins de-camped upstate to where the tanning is actually done so there was a lot of back and forth. But I would say 6 months is a decent time frame to allow on any project of this nature. 

It’s a true investment. 

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