Fishleather: from Egyptians to Icelanders

Just as you can make leather out of  the skin of cows, deer, crocodiles or snakes, you can also make leather from the skin of fish. The Egyptians did it thousands of years ago.

In the far east of Siberia, along the Amur River, the Nanai live.

This people used to be known as the Yupi Tartars (fish skin tartars).

The northern Indians in particular used fish leather as clothing and footwear to walk on: from the Joepik in Alaska, the Inuit in Canada and Greenland, the Samen in Lapland to the Aino on the northern islands of Japan and Russia.

The Icelanders, descendants of the Vikings, mixed with Scottish and Irish immigrants, also used the skins of the sea wolf to make shoes.


Photo: Joepik in Alaska made boots from fish leather. W. D. Johns, 1900, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle Learn in fashion

In more moderate areas, gregine - made from the skins of rays and sharks - was used as early as the sixteenth century for covering weapons and blades of knives.

In the eighteenth century, fish leather was used as luxury upholstery material for perfume bottles, powder boxes and cases, and in particular during the Art Deco period (1920-1939) it became popular for handbags, cigarette boxes and furniture.

In French this method of decorative application of fish leather is also called galuchat, named after the inventor Jean-Claude Galluchat.

Contemporary fashion and shoe designers also use fish leather. There are chic pumps from Gucci with salmon leather and spotted catfish. Nike made sport shoes with carp and salmon leather sneakers are coming from Denmark.


Objects and furniture upholstered in fish leather, designer Bjorn Bjornsson