A texturally rich and visually intriguing material, shagreen or “galuchat” in French, shark and stingray skins were originally used by the Japanese to decorate armour and weaponry. Later, Europeans used the strong lustrous skin for precious boxes and scientific instruments. Most famously, during the Art Deco period, modernist decorators such as Jean Michel Frank and Clement Rousseau applied stingray skin to their furniture and lighting collections.
Using raw skins is a mysterious process that took our workshop almost ten years to perfect. Alexander Lamont and a small team of artisans originally received training in the art deco technique for using raw skins from the world expert on shagreen, Jean Perfettini. A restoration expert at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, Jean trained our shagreen workshop in the painstaking techniques for thinning, cleaning, dyeing, cutting, adhering and finishing the raw skins to achieve a surface that has been described as ‘a million beads of ivory’.
We use only the traditional raw stingray skins in our work because the durability is greater, the finish more tactile and the myriad natural tones far more beautiful than those of pre-dyed chromium-tanned skins, which are more commonly found in use today. In addition, our method does not involve the unpleasant polluting process for which tanned skins are notorious. While honouring the traditional technique, we have found our own ways to finish and apply shagreen giving a new character to this rare material.