Wednesday, September 2, 2009


True factoid: Shagreen is just plain chic. It's one of those truths that are "self evident" (to quote our Founding Fathers who would have loved shagreen if they'd been decorators).

But honestly, I don't know one designer who doesn't swoon over shagreen. Here's a real swooner: an oval and brass shagreen mirror from C.MARIANI ANTIQUES:

And here's a close up of the shagreen:

Shagreen is pronounced "shuh GREEN" and is defined as an untanned animal skin that has a very granular surface, almost like pebbles. Remember Pebbles? She was Bam-Bam's playmate on The Flinstones. Here she is plopped down on the left with her family:

Wait, shagreen doesn't look like THAT Pebbles. Yes, she was cute as a button, but chic, I don't think so. Plus she has no pupils (she got Wilma's eyes) and I find that scary in a "Children of the Corn" sort of way. Don't you think?

But guess which Bedrock character in our photo ACTUALLY MIGHT just make a lovely shagreen clutch?

Is it Wilma? Nope. How about Fred? How about no again. The correct answer is DINO the purple dinosaur!

See, shagreen is untanned hides with granular indentations ("pebbles") that come from animals like donkeys, horses, sharks, sting rays, and, sadly, Dinos.

Isn't it amazing how this all ties together? Here's a detail shot of a green shagreen (I think that's called alliteration but I'm too lazy to fact check this) vintage cigarette case:

Now I know what you're thinking: "Hey Buzz, does shagreen only come in green? Is there shacream or shapeuce?" Actually, shagreen comes in any color but regardless of its color it's still just called shagreen. I have no idea why but there it is.

Here's shagreen in pink:

Est shagreen "Pretty in Pink?" Me think oui, but I don't speak French so I can't be sure.

Shagreen first became popular in the 1920's (reaching its height in the '30's) and was and is used in a variety of ways, not just on small luxury goods (like clocks, purses, etc.) but also as a surface for furniture.

At our C. MARIANI CUSTOM WORKSHOP, we're often asked to create Art Deco style and modern furniture laminated in shagreen. And it comes out great. But my preference is to use the faux shagreen (the thought of Dino as a handbag makes me mist right up). Anyhow, the faux shagreen available today is practically indistinguishable from the real thing so please use that.

Anyhow, how does shagreen relate to antiques? Not much really since most of it appears on pieces that are less than one hundred years old. But it was used in the 19th century on English tea caddies and also on book bindings.

Widespread use of shagreen really didn't happen until the 1920's and '30's. Here's an Art Deco floor lamp that marries shagreen with palmwood to create a very soigné (a really good word to know and pronounced "swan YAY" and meaning sleek) standard:


GrannySmithGreen said...

O.K., so how does one know if we have Dino (eeek, I hope not), horse, donkey or shark? I'm just wondering what's sitting on top of my dressing table. Thanks for your help and wonderful insight!

Unknown said...

That's a great question. The tightest and considered the finest shagreen is the sting ray and it has the densest and smallest little bumps on it. But the downside of them is that they come in little "hides" so if you're covering a large surface like a coffee table, you're going to have seams.

All the rest have varying larger bumpy surfaces and sizes and, in the case of the faux, the look differs from source to source. But I think the fakes are very chic and real looking (how often do you see a sting ray anyhow?). Plus they're PETA perfect and well sized.