Caring for the best leather doesn't necessarily mean sending it to a dry cleaner when it's dirty. Use a cleaner that specializes in leather, and only for serious problems such as ink spots. The chemicals employed in cleaning can dull leather's luster and, if the garment is dyed, cause colors to fade unevenly.

You're usually better off cleaning leather yourself. Instead of chemicals, use a gum eraser on spots or wash the leather with two drops of Ivory Liquid soap in a cup of water. Don't rinse. Let the soap dry and gently wipe it off.

Keep leather garments where you'd be most comfortable: in clean, dry areas with moderate temperatures. All leather items, but especially suedes because they're so porous, should be protected from dust and dirt.

If you use a garment bag, leave it unzipped so that air can circulate. Suedes must be groomed regularly with a stiff bristle brush, clean sponge or scrap of leather. If a garment is worn several times a week, a simple three-minute brushing once a month should suffice.

There's nothing you can do to remove some stains, especially those from protein products such as beer, butter, cheese and milk. Reason: The oils added to leather during the tanning process quickly absorb anything greasy. If the unthinkable does occur, wipe the whole area, not just the stain, with a clean, damp cloth. That will spread the stain to create a tone rather than an obvious spot.

"Take care of leather as you take care of your own skin," urges Frank Liste, president of Cito Leather Inc., a Montreal manufacturer. "You don't use a lot of oil, put yourself in washing machines or get too much sun or rain."