leather fake and real

‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.’ – Oscar Wilde

Everybody loves a bargain, right? The thrill of the find, saving much needed pennies and wondering if it’s trash or treasure? But not when it comes to sofas, specifically Chesterfield sofas. The phrases ‘you get what you pay for’ and ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ spring to mind. 

So how do you tell if a leather sofa is real or fake? Do not worry! Even though there are some excellent imitation leathers out there, with our guide, you’ll be a counterfeit spotting expert in no time! After all, we don’t have time, or space in our living rooms for fakery! 

Our top ‘tell-tale’ signs on how do you tell if a leather sofa is real

In our vast experience, we have culminated a succinct list of 10 identifying signs: 

  • Check the label (sound obvious but it’s the quickest and easiest thing to look for so start with that)
  • Be suspicious if it looks ‘too good to be true’, it probably means it is
  • No two leather hides are the same
  • Unique to the touch – remember this
  • Real leather has a distinctive smell – if you can’t smell this, it’s not the real deal
  • Can it be stretched? Real leather can be. It should also change colour in the process
  • Look for the pores – they have to be there 
  • Little imperfections are good – a sign its real. So look for creases and wrinkles
  • Does it absorb moisture? It should
  • Ignore colour: this isn’t a guaranteed sign of genuine authenticity 

Now we’ve made you aware of the classic tell-tale giveaways, let’s break these down for you, in a little more detail. After all, knowledge is power – especially when you’re parting with your hard-earned cash. 

You really do get what you pay for…

When it comes to furniture, particularly that of the leather kind, you really do have to pay for quality. There’s no getting around or away from this. If the price of a ‘leather’ sofa looks too good to be true, believe us when we say, it most definitely is! 

Leather always comes with quite a price tag and this is due to many reasons. The main reason being its inevitable quality and the price it costs the seller to process in order for it to be sellable. 

Leather processing is highly intensive and undertaken by time-served crafts people – it isn’t a job just anybody can do! You should be able to feel and see this in the finished sofa and if you can’t, those alarm bells should be internally ringing. 

Looking at the price tag offers a big clue as to the product’s quality. Real leather is always good value, as it comes with such hard-wearing longevity and timeless design, hence why it is very rarely, if ever ‘dirt-cheap’.

Leather really is unique – in every sense of the word

Did you know, there are no two leather hides that are ever the same? Bear this in mind. Use this fact, among others, to remind yourself of the leather USPs. You must always use all of your five senses to ensure you use far more than just sight to determine leather’s originality and authenticity. 

Sight alone can be deceived with very convincing ‘Pleathers’ (a modern-day slang term for plastic-‘leather’, or fakes to you and I!).

Leather should always be unique to the touch and smell! Yes, you may look a touch questionable if you walk into a furniture shop and start smelling the sofas, but you will thank us in the long run! Although the smell of leather can vary, depending on the type of leather, there is generally a unique, earthy smell that is often described as “oaky” or “woodsy”. This scent comes from the tannins in the leather, which are natural compounds that are also found in wood and plants. If you can’t smell this – RUN! (And take your wallet / purse with you!).

It is clear that genuine leather should feel soft and flexible to the touch. If you’re unsure, get somebody else to have a feel and confirm they agree with your interpretation. 

As well as it feeling pliable, it will also have a grainy feel. Real, authentic leather will always stretch, whereas fake leather will be rigid and have no stretchable properties to it. 

Lastly, real leather will feel warm, while fake leather feels cool. Whether or not real leather is indeed hard or soft may be another notable question to bear in mind. We can assure you real leather always has a smooth, soft texture unlike PU (artificial leathers).  Artificial leather always has a consistent texture in appearance, though it can sometimes look fake and synthetic – which is usually the main giveaway.

Although not all fakes are as easily identifiable, this gives you a good idea of the types of imprints and tell-tale signs to look out for.

Check the label

Anybody who has ever purchased, or tried to dispose of a sofa, will know there are certain labels that absolutely must be present. A fire-safety label being the main one. 

But when purchasing leather, there absolutely should be other labels present. Be wary of any product that doesn’t specifically claim to be real leather. If it is labelled as ‘manmade material,’ it is definitely synthetic leather. But if it doesn’t say anything at all, chances are that the manufacturer wants to conceal the fact that it isn’t real leather. The exception to this being if the sofa is pre-loved or second hand and has possibly lost their tags. Again, use your judgement to determine the likelihood of this. But most manufacturers are proud of the fact that they use real leather, and will note it as following:

  • Real leather
  • Genuine leather
  • Top/Full grain leather
  • Made with animal product

For more information on the labels you should see on any genuine leather product, the Leather Dictionary is a great site to checkout.

Words of assurance

Look for words like: nubuck, antique, rub off, saddle, soft-grain, suede, aniline, and full grain. These are reassuring words – we promise. These indicate there’s a good chance the piece you’re considering is made from genuine, real leather.

Signs of authenticity 

Check the surface grain of the leather. More specifically, the little “pebbles” and pores, for imperfections and uniqueness that signal genuine leather. Imperfections, in leather, are actually a good thing. Remember, real leather is made from animal skin, and as such each piece is as random and unique as the animal it came from. Very regular, even, and similar grains often indicate a machine-made, synthetic piece. Real leather might have scratches, creases, and wrinkles – all good signs.

The illusion of colour

Ignore colour as an identifying factor, as even coloured leathers can be genuine. A bright blue piece of leather furniture may not look natural, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t made of real leather. 

Colours and dyes can be added to both synthetics and natural leathers, so ignore colour to provide you with certainty and instead, stick to feel, smell, and texture when searching for real or faux leather.

The moisture test

Sometimes in this life you can’t beat plain old Science! If you think of a hypothesis, someone else out there will have already done the groundwork and either proved or dis-proved it for you. 

Leather is no exception.

Drop a small amount of water on the sofa, as real leather absorbs moisture. If its fake, the water will simply puddle up on top. But real leather will absorb a small drop of water in only a few seconds, telling you quickly if it is genuine. Et Voila! 

A last word from us

By following our guide, you will hopefully be in a much stronger position to determine with certainty whether your potential new sofa is indeed leather or not.

Note that, as manufacturers get more skilled, their designs are better mimicking real leather. This makes buying online, where you only have a picture, very difficult to do.

However, if you are unsure about any of it, as always, we pride ourselves on our expert leather knowledge and experience, so please feel free to give us a call about exploring your options.

Now we’ve answered ‘how do you tell if a leather sofa is real?’ you might be interested in our article on maintaining a Chesterfield sofa.


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