It’s easy to tell from the photos here and the projects I’ve been making for the last few years that Natural Chromexcel is one of my personal favorite leathers.  I get a lot of questions about how it wears in, and the best way to care for it, so lets get to the bottom of those questions.

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This here is a fresh new Westbound midlength wallet in natural chromexcel.  Natural CXL can vary in color a lot, but the stuff shown here is fairly average.  Sometimes it’s lighter, sometimes it’s darker, but generally it’s a mellow and desaturated medium brown.  More gold tones than red tones, and somewhat greyish compared to other common brown leather shades.

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Here’s a few pieces with some wear on them.  The color darkens a bit, particularly around the edges.  When used for belts or other hard-wearing stuff, the surface grain will pop out a bit.  Wallets will darken even more, and pick up some nice butt-polish over time.  Indigo staining is inevitable sometimes, but brushing with horsehair or microfiber frequently can help reduce it.

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Here’s my belt compared to a fresh one.  I think mine has around 2 years of wear.  I own a lot of belts since I have to test out different leathers, but this is the one I wear the most.  Chromexcel is indeed stretchier than most serious belt leathers, but the amount of stretch is generally overstated on shoe forums.  I went from 2nd to 3rd hole on my own belt in those two years.  This is also minimized by the pre-stretching that I give each belt before sizing.

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Chromexcel also does scratch easily.  If visible wear bothers you, you’d probably be better off with a latigo or bridle leather.

The best way to care for Chromexcel, or any leather, is wiping with a damp cloth followed by brushing with a horsehair brush.  Oils, goops, waxes, and other care products are often way overused.  Chromexcel has a very high moisture content, and trying to cram more goop into it isn’t going to benefit the leather.  You should be wiping and brushing far more often than you apply anything to the leather.

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In the case of particularly bright or ugly scratches, you may want to minimize the appearance.  It’s easy to buff out a scratch with a teeny tiny amount of leather conditioner.  Just a dab on the tip of a finger, rub it in for ~30 seconds, wipe away the excess before letting it dry and then give it a nice brushing and most scrapes will just about vanish.

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Here I used Obenauf’s LP, but the specific product doesn’t matter much.  I prefer natural products with things like beeswax, lanolin, and animal fats and avoid stuff with petroleum or distillates. 

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My boots (custom White’s Smoke Jumpers from Baker Shoe) are about two years old now, and maintain their good looks despite the use of almost zero conditioner, just some spot-treatment on big scratches and lots of brushing.

You see a lot of natural chromexcel boots much younger than mine that have washed out into a really bland “just brown” color from over-conditioning.  If your boots are going to see hard use in wet conditions, sometimes that’s a necessary thing, but unless you work outside in the Northwest, that’s probably not you (and if you do, you probably use a less-pretty utilitarian leather from the get go).

So in short: brush often, oil sparingly, wear constantly, and your stuff will look great.