WASHING YOUR LEATHER JACKET by Peter Nguyen of LÉON and Robert Geller

The thought of washing a leather jacket might sound crazy to most people. But a lot of you might be surprised to know that a lot of the designers who are known for their leather pieces (including Rick Owens, Neil Barret and Robert Geller) wash their leather pieces. I remember the very first day I started working at Robert Geller was the day the Spring 2008 collection arrived, the first thing we did was hop over to the nearest Laundromat and wash the pieces. What a way to start a new job!

I decided to give my Robert Geller Petroleum leather jacket from Spring 2009 a bath yesterday. What washing leather essentially does is take away some of the shine, dulls the color and gives it a nice drape. I personally am not a fan of crisp, motorcycle style leather jackets, I like jackets that somewhat feel alive and like a second skin.

One thing you have to know is that the leather will shrink, usually one size down. While wearing it often will stretch it out some, it probably won’t go back to its original size. So if you plan on washing a leather jacket you buy on your own I would recommend getting a size up just to be safe, unless the cut is generous. Better safe than sorry.

The color of this jacket is extremely hard to capture, but I did my best with tweaking the color settings to show you how the jacket looks before. As you can see, the greenish blue tint is quite bright with a nice sheen all around. Please note that the lookbook photo at the beginning of this post features a sample that was washed.

The process is fairly simple.

What you need:

Time: 10-15 minutes + 2-3 days drying time

  • 1 Leather jacket
  • Bathtub or large plastic bin
  • 3-4 towels
  • Heavy duty wooden hanger
  1. Fill your tub with enough lukewarm water to submerge the jacket.
  2. As you can see, a lot of the dye will start to come out. If you are worried about staining your tub, you can do this in a plastic bin or any other container you have.
  3. In my experience, you don’t want to use water that’s too hot as it might bleed too much of the dye out or cause extreme shrinkage.
  4. Work the jacket with your hands, rubbing the leather against itself, squeezing some of the dye out and making sure all parts of the jacket are soaked. Let the jacket sit for 5 to 10 mins.
  5. Ring out as much of the water from the jacket as you can
  6. Now you have two opens for drying. If you’d like more drape, you can hang dry it and let gravity help create a nice drape. You can also choose to let it dry flat, in which case you will have to make sure you rotate your towels so you don’t stain your floor. Full drying takes at least 2 days. Test wear it with some old clothes as some of the dye might still come off if it’s not fully dry.

I chose to hang dry it, which caused this nice drape on the body of the jacket. As you can see, the color has gotten slightly duller and the jacket overall is a lot more matte.

More notes (Thanks to Deacon Yu for the info)

“Like wool, leather loses a lot of its strength when wet. So be careful with the hanger’s length - it has to match the length of the shoulder. Otherwise, you will get 2 not-so-nice little nipples poking out on your deltoids (the upper muscle of your arm).

Also, you do want to be careful with different leather. Leather is not meant to be wet. That’s why they all have a finishing on it. but washing it, you are taking away the protection (but creating some nice effect in some cases). How leather don’t take drying well and will start cracking (in which case, you will need to use some leather conditioner, ‘Lexol’ works pretty well). Testing with small area is very important.

Generally for the more expensive leather, washing once won’t have too much of a problem. But the same can’t be said for the 2nd, 3rd, or the 4th time.

Why? The expensive leather are mostly 1st-layer leather. They are better finished with more protection. the cheaper leather are mostly 2nd-layer leather or ’split’ leather. The finishing are poor on those. Uneven without washing, they will dry up, will crack, and the finishing will ‘fall’ off with time.”