Exotic skins & Hermes monopoly


hubba hubba ;)
Sep 23, 2006
NYC metro-area
From American Express "Departures" magazine, Sept.2008

The A-to-Z Style Guide: Q

THE EXPERT: Cameron Silver, owner of vintage L.A. emporium Decades and self-confessed croco addict.

Q: First things first. How can I tell my alligator from my croc?

A: Crocodile and alligator skins are often misidentified by retailers or used interchangeably. The Alligatoridae family includes the American alligator and the caimans; Crocodylidae includes the saltwater (porosus) and Nile (niloticus). There are other varieties, but these four are the only ones legally traded in the United States.

I don’t claim to be a herpetologist, but the easiest way for a layman to decipher the difference is to know that only crocodile has a dimple in each scale, called a dermal pressure receptor. American alligator is noted for its clean, totally smooth skin. Caiman comes from South America and has an outer skeleton, giving the skin a varied texture and a bit of a savage quality.

Q: Crocodile versus alligator: Who wins?

A: Crocodile is perceived by many as superior to alligator, porosus crocodile being the absolute ultimate for an exotic skin handbag. Rumor has it that Hermès has a virtual monopoly on the export of these skins, which are found mostly in Australia. Among the alligators American is preferred, the skin used most often by fashion designers since its fibers are not as dense as a crocodile’s, so the skins are softer; that’s why it’s perfect for supple garments like Brioni’s zip-up men’s bomber.

Aficionados think of caiman alligator as at the lower end of the exotic skin totem pole. However, as a more affordable alternative, it has no shortage of fans. Caiman-loving Nancy Gonzalez is the largest worldwide purveyor of exotic skin brand-name handbags, which range from $645 to $35,000 [neimanmarcus.com].

Q: That’s the low end?

A: Yes, exotics are expensive. Caiman skins can grow big enough in nine months to make a single bag. In contrast, farmers need to wait a few years until a porosus crocodile is big enough to farm the skin.

Q: Do alligators actually come in shiny green and gold?

A: Regardless of how fantastic they might look, a lot of the new trendy tanning techniques like white, metallic, and hand-painted finishes can compromise the durability of the skin. The glaze finish is classic, most gorgeous in porosus but prone to fingerprinting and sensitive to water. The matte finish is oil- and water-resistant, doesn’t smudge, and looks great in both alligator and Nile crocodile. The protective topcoat used in the millennium finish, a hybrid of glazed and matte, tends to take away from the natural beauty of the skin; it gives the pieces a bit of a plastic look.

Q: What’s next on your shopping list?

A: I collect vintage crocodile Hermès travel bags and wallets from as far back as the twenties. And I’d love to add YSL’s iPhone case and Samsonite’s Black Label Bespoke trolley to my personal wardrobe of exotic accessories, which include Louis Vuitton alligator shoes and an antiqued alligator coat.


Jun 14, 2007
Interesting interview Gelbergirl!

I just have to mention that alligator does have "pores" on the throat and jowls.
It allows the alligator to excrete the salt from the brackish water that they live in.

I have included pictures of one of the vintage alligator purses I have and you can see the pores.
The jowl and throat skins are reserved for the front of the bags,and all of my vintage alligator bags have pores.
I am sure that many people mistakenly list them as porosus croc on Ebay?


Lyanna Stark

Out of Control
Dec 24, 2006
Thank you for posting, it is so interesting.

duchess, thank you for clarifying. Seems that we can't take the information above as gospel truth as it didn't come straight from Hermes.


May 19, 2007
duchess, I cant help but to bring this matter up as I am clearly in need of a more solid verification...

It is to my utmost understanding that there are no pores whatsoever in alligator bags. I also couldnt help but notice that the scales on your bags dont look like alligator to me, more like croco nilo as I've had the chance to inspect some alligator Hermes bags before and this doesnt look like alligator to me.

I dont claim to be an expert, rather I hope the ones that are on this forum will chime in and give their 2c's worth?

Thanks for posting the photos up, it still doesnt take away from the beauty of the bags! They are gorgeous!!