The D/V Blog

// Published Jul 05 2016

Tips On How To Care For Your Leather Bag From The Leather Craftsmen

Chanel bags are known as investment pieces. Purchase a classic bag now and it will be worth up to 70% more in five years! The key is to provide longevity to your leather bag with proper care and maintenance. With so many tips and tricks on the web and in open forums, it's hard to find true information on how to keep your Chanel bag in the best shape possible. Seeking definitive answers, we spoke to Gerry Gallagher, a master leather craftsman and founder of Leather Surgeons.



Chanel bags are considered investment pieces. If kept well, they last a lifetime.
What is the best way to keep leather in its best shape beyond storing and basic cleaning?

I would say it’s understanding that you’re carrying a luxury item that is made from organic, natural material – it’s not plastic. There are some things you’re going to want to be conscientious of, like the type of leather the bag is made from. You don’t want to get a lambskin bag out in the rain. And being cautious about what you wear the bag against. If you’re wearing a lighter colored bag, you don’t want to wear it against darker colored blue jeans because the dye will transfer, regardless of whether it’s a sweater or denim, you have to be aware of it. Those are two pretty big points. It’s also about keeping the structure of the bag in mind. Are you resting your elbow on the bag causing a crease in the flap? Or when you’re carrying a GST, are you crushing the shoulder straps in your hand? And of course, there are common sense points like not overweighting the bag when you carry it and avoiding putting the bag on the floor in restaurants or even when you’re in the car.

There is a lot of information online about different cleaners and conditioners to use on leather handbags. However, there are many horror stories! How often do you receive bags that have been damaged from home cleaning?

Every week. We get bags in every week that have been either poorly treated by home-use products or over the counter type products that aren't specific to the bag. And worse than that, ruined or near ruined by inexperienced or – how would we describe them – vendors that just aren't knowledgeable, who are just in it for a quick buck and paint the bag. The paint jobs are the misery. If a customer takes her bag and puts mink oil or some kind on conditioner on it and stains the bag, for the most part we can get that out and start over. But once the bag is painted, then we have a nightmare – it can still be done, but it’s a nightmare. I know there are shops that use the same aerosol spray paint they sell at hardware stores to paint high-end handbags, even on exotic skins. Working with exotics is a skill unto itself, you need professional gear and an understanding of how the skins are tanned in the first place. Honestly letting these people work on your bag is like hiring a termite to do carpentry.

Which home remedies or products do you see damage leather most often?

Any oil-born cleaning product or conditioner will stain lambskin. Caviar leather is a lot tougher, but there are things you might not think about. For example, when customers use neutral polishes, even if they’re water-born, typically the customer does not remove all of the product. It winds up drying and once it dries, it leaves a white residue between all of the impressions in the caviar. It has to come to us to be cleaned out. And with exotic skins, people should just never attempt to clean it themselves. Especially glazed alligator – glazed alligator gets damaged even if you look at it too hard. Just the sweat on your hand can leave a dull spot. Exotic skins just aren’t a home maintenance project.

What problems do you see most often with a bags shape and how can this be prevented?

I would say honestly just wear and tear and generally using the bag will definitely cause it to lose structure and symmetry. And the cure is to redo what was done in the first place – to open the bag up, take out all the internals (what we call stays), and replace them. Sometimes when a bag is manufactured, the stays are underweighted and that's why the bag might break down and lose symmetry sooner than it should. If I feel that's the case, based on my experience, I up the weight of the stays to give the bag more structure and more symmetry. At the same time, you don't want to ruin the vibe of the bag or turn a bag that should be somewhat soft-sided into a suitcase. You have to be careful about that. We see horror stories, where shops put pieces of a Chanel box inside the bag to give it shape - even little pieces of board and cardboard boxes - all kinds of stuff they sew into bags to reshape them, because they don't know what the hell they're doing. They've never made a real handbag in their life, so they don't know what goes inside of the handbag and they don't know where they can get it.

Can you actually give an original shape to a bag? What does this process look like?

Yes! You take the interior lining out of the bag most of the time. Well, let's be bag specific. Let's say if we're doing a GST, we take off the rings, we take out the grommets (which are, for a lack of a better word, the eyelets that the rings go through), we unstitch the top of the bag and pull the lining out completely. Then, we replace all the stays and we up-weight the stays a little bit, giving the gusset more structure than it had originally. After all the stays are cemented and put back in place, we drop the lining back in, re-stitch it with the original thread through the original holes and put it all back together. And they come out beautiful! We wind up giving them back the symmetry that they had when they were original.

Explain what your detailing service can do for a leather bag and how often a bag should be taken for this type of treatment.

First thing we do, we take off all the hardware. We remove the chain if there is one, then we clean the bag thoroughly inside and out. We balance the pH of the leather, we condition the leather, then we buff the whole thing. We hand-polish the hardware, we put the hardware back on the bag and then we give the bag a final buff. I have a bag from 1955 that I’m working on right now. It’s a vintage crocodile Kelly bag. It’s in good condition, because it was well maintained! So now we have an heirloom, something that’s stood the test of time, about 60 years. It’s the balancing of the pH and the conditioning of the leather that keeps it supple, keeps it moist, and just keeps it in play. So that would be something important to have done regularly, about once every 12 months.

At what point does a bag need to be sent for repair or complete restoration?

A complete restoration would be after using the bags for a few years and you start to see fading in the hardware, where the gold tones fade to silver or they get scratched. Also when the bag loses symmetry or the leather starts to wear through the top layer. But you really want to get the bag to us before it wears all the way through to the suede underneath and especially before you wind up with holes in the corners! Then we have to work a couple miracles to replace that leather and it winds up being more expensive. We do it every week, but it becomes a complete restoration as opposed to a spa treatment at that point, which is going to add a couple hundred dollars to the price.

After a Chanel bag is restored, how similar will it be to the original?

Well, based on the condition it is when we start, there are a lot of cases where the bag looks new again and there are other times where we can only get the bag to 75% of what it once looked like. You know, things like dents caused by the chain, creasing in the leather, depending on how bad it is we can only do so much. But overall - and you can run this by my son Hunter - we get them to honestly look about 85% similar to the original. And a hell of a lot better than anyone else!


Leather Surgeons has been in business for almost 30 years and has restored over 200,000 Chanel bags. Gerry himself has studied at FIT, apprenticed under Domenic Rivierlo, created custom leather training equipment for the US Olympic Training Center and even turned a Chanel tote into a dog carrying case for Mariah Carey. With his two sons, Cory and Hunter, the Leather Surgeons team are master leather craftsmen. This is why Designer Vault trusts Leather Surgeons with our bags! We make sure that each and every bag that sets foot into our store receives the utmost care. That's why we rely on Leather Surgeons and their expertise to make sure you receive the best Chanel bag possible.


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