In Mike Nichols’ 1987 film Working Girl, there’s a hilarious scene were Melanie Griffith and Joan Cusack, two gloriously hairsprayed Staten Island secretaries, raid the Upper East Side closet of Griffith’s educated, privileged and more sophisticated boss, Sigourney Weaver, who is out of town. When Cusack pulls an elegant velvet cocktail dress from the closet with the price tag still on it, she explodes incredulously with one of my favorite lines ever uttered: “Six thousand dollars?? It’s not even leather!” (But the way Cusack says it, it’s “leathuh.”)
Cusack’s line, from the wonderful script by Kevin Wade, perfectly articulates an unfortunate cultural phenomenon that still lingers among us: the notion that leather is the ultimate. Whether we’re talking about jackets, sneakers, bags or other accessories, leather is, to many, just the best.
The value of leather as the ultimate bleeds into furniture, too. With sofas and chairs, there is a popular idea that if it’s leather, it’s awesome. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
The worst offender to my eye is the ubiquitous leather bro couch, which is technically a sofa. (But dudes don’t say “sofa.” They say “couch.”) I often see them on moving days at the beginning or end of the month, being carried to or from a moving truck. On rare occasions, I’ve actually been in Axe-scented dwellings where such sofas are center stage among things like a matching chair, the regulation Euro-techno glass top coffee table, standard halogen floor lamps, empty game cups, scattered Adidas shower shoes, a huge TV with a game console (displayed with no attempt to hide any cords), sports team paraphernalia and even the occasional Scarface poster. But the star of the bro living room is that leather sofa, begging to be violently hurled into a landfill and never seen again.
“But dude, it’s comfortable. And we spill a lot when we party. It’s easy to clean.” True, the mushy-cushy feel of these sofas can resemble a mother’s womb comfort that many of their owners have never outgrown, while the leather component attempts to signal an “I’m a player now” vibe. And speaking of not outgrowing… if spills from red plastic Solo cups or cans of Bud Light and White Claw are a legit concern, one wonders if you haven’t been sprung from mom and dad’s house a bit too soon.
Purely in terms of design, leather bro sofas transcend unattractive. They’re a non-shape, a non-design, much like the long, loose and flirty UnderArmor shorts that often sit on them. Maybe that’s why they’re popular. They say nothing, like the design equivalent of a grunt. If a leather bro sofa could actually speak, it’s two-word vocabulary might be “Yo” and “bruh.”
The leather aspect is another issue. I’m not one for leather furniture in general. As someone who quit meat a decade ago, I’ve made a concerted effort to minimize new leather in my home. (It’s really just down to the occasional new pair of shoes at this point.) As for furniture, it just feels like a lot of dead flesh to create something that is never as beautiful as the original animal. If I were to buy any leather furniture, I would search eBay or Chairish for something vintage rather than creating demand by putting more money into a system that produces a shameless amount of animal hide.
To be fair, there is some great looking leather furniture out there, and there have been some iconic design masterpieces crafted with it. The Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman comes to mind, as does the Eames Aluminum Group Management series and Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair. The Chesterfield sofa is another classic in the leather arena, although the same design in velvet can be really sharp. In fact, all the aforementioned classics, which are best known in leather form, are also available in textiles that weren’t once alive.
As for handsome, workable and affordable alternatives to the leather bro sofa, there are really good options, ranging from super affordable to slightly pricey but made to last. On the more affordable end of the spectrum, there are great options from Wayfair, AllModern and even IKEA. Bumping up the budget a bit, you can find great pieces from CB2, West Elm and Joybird, where I bought my sofa and loveseat this year.
But here’s the cold truth: the leather bro couch is fucking ugly. Get rid of the one you bought, or don’t even buy the one you were thinking of buying. It has no place in polite, grown-up society except, perhaps, in a bad porn filmed with a Samsung Galaxy S8. But if the tacky Euro-gigolo pimp look is what you’re going for, knock yourself out.