What is shagreen ?

Shagreen is nowadays made of the skin of stingray fish.

«Shagreen» derives from the French «chagrin», which originally was a type of rawhide consisting of rough untanned skin from a horse’s back or that of onager.

Its use is ancestral: supposedly, ray fish skin has been used since the time of the pharaohs, during the Chinese Han dynasty and later the Qing dynasty and at the time of Japanese Samourai on the sword hilts and armour in part because its texture provided a reliable grip. 

In the early 18th centuries, Mr Galluchat, a master leatherworker in the court of king Louis XV of France, revived the use of sharkskin and stingray fish for decorative items. It quickly became a fashion amongst the French aristocracy and migrated throughout Europe.

The use of shagreen during the 19th century remains to be confirmed. It appears that Napoleon III had ordered a full set of furniture and objects made of shagreen for his bedroom at the Chateau des Tuileries, which was devastated by fire. 

In the 1920s, Paul Iribe, a French cabinetmaker, and Clément Rousseau, a French sculptor, brought shagreen back into fashion. Other cabinetmakers (Chanaux, Groult, Ruhlmann) also explored the decorative potential of this material, thereby setting shagreen in the “Art deco” period.