NEW YORK -- The Limited Inc. is reportedly close to signing a joint venture agreement with Next PLC to roll out Bath & Body Works stores in Europe, beginning in the U.K.

Next, a powerhouse retailer based in Enderby, England, sells its own brand of women's, men's and children's apparel, footwear and accessories. It has 300 stores in the U.K. and Ireland. Next USA has a store in Boston and another at Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va. Bath & Body and Structure men's wear have been the two biggest growth divisions at Limited.

Limited officials had no comment on the Next report, but Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and chief executive officer, said at a press conference following the annual meeting last month that he expected to announce details of an international strategy for Bath & Body shortly, including a joint venture partner.

This would be Limited's first retail venture overseas. At the time, sources said the company envisioned what would ultimately be a 2,000-unit chain.

Jennifer Black Groves, a retail analyst with Black & Co. Inc., Portland, Ore., said Monday, "The joint venture makes a lot of sense because it gives The Limited an entry into the international market with an experienced retailer, and could provide great traffic for Next."

Bath & Body Works is already exploding domestically. It is expected to finish 1994 with 319 stores in the U.S., up from 194 at the end of 1993. The division was launched in 1990.

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