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Sandast opens flagship in downtown L.A.

May 17, 2012 | 12:15 pm

SandastAh, leather. The look. The scent. The feel. Few materials are as sensual.

Not only does L.A. bagmaker Sandast bring out leather's best attributes in its handcrafted bags and luggage, it's inviting Angelenos into the experience with a new flagship store adjacent to its workshop in downtown L.A.

"Since the factory is so big, we needed a showroom," said Milan Franeta, founder and creative director of Sandast. And once Franeta decided to open a showroom, he decided to share it with friends who share his affection for artisanal fashion with a vintage twist.

Located in a former automotive garage, the enormous 4,000-square-foot space is a tribute to American heritage as much as it is a store. In addition to Franeta's bags, the flagship carries dozens of brands whose styles compliment a Sandast aesthetic that marries elegance and ruggedness. There are cubbies of handmade Gilded Age jeans from New York and AG Jeans from L.A. Tables of Johnson Motors T-shirts yield to displays of Dita sunglasses and H by Hudson shoes.

Sandaststore2"This is a lifestyle store. We're not just going to sell shoes and bags and clothing. We're going to have music, books, some organic food, olive oil, honey, coffee. A little bit of everything," said Franeta, a native of Montenegro and artist who made or found most of the furniture in the new shop and says he's "addicted to finding new ways to make bags that are different."

Most of the leather Franeta works with is from tanneries in Kansas, Illinois and Texas that use  vegetable dyes that yield five different shades of brown, tan, rust, grey and black. Some of the hardware is sourced from Italy. Others are custom-made and distressed to compliment Franeta's "massaged" and polished leathers. His bags retail for $250 to $2,000. Clothes are priced from about $50 to $200.

Sandaststore3Franeta's style was born from a childhood spent watching American westerns when he "fell in love with all the colors of western style, the boots, the saddles, the jeans." After moving to the U.S. in 1987, he began collecting vintage Levi's and antiques, some of which are used as decor for the store.

He started Sandast in 2006 with a collection of handmade belts that he private labeled for Gilded Age, and partnered with retail veteran Chris Pak in 2010 to extend the brand that was primarily sold in Europe, Mexico and a handful of U.S. specialty stores. Franeta has so far designed more than 100 bags. The 40 or so that are displayed for sale in the new store represent his best work.

"I'm not a designer designer that puts everything on paper," Franeta said. "I'm more of a creator. Mine is a style I create in my head and I go in the factory and make it."

Shoppers who want to see exactly how can do so at the new South Hill Street shop. There's a window that looks into Franeta's workspace from the store.

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American heritage brands make a comeback

-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: Sandast models and bags; Sandast store displays. Credit: Sandast.

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