NEW YORK — The Saks Inc. department store group pumped up its private brand and product development team with two promotions to cover responsibilities previously held by Peggy Eskenasi, who sources say is in talks with Kohl’s Corp.

Harris Mustafa, senior vice president of planning and operations for private brand, and a 30-year retail veteran, has been promoted to executive vice president of private brand and product development.

Steve Villa, another 30-year retail veteran, has been promoted to senior vice president and general merchandise manager of ready-to-wear and intimate apparel for private brand and product development. He was vice president of product development for Studio Works, one of the group’s largest-volume private brands, and for Breckenridge, a women’s brand introduced earlier this year.

Eskenasi, formerly president of private brand and product development for the group, abruptly left Saks about two weeks ago, triggering speculation she might be headed to Kohl’s Corp. Kohl’s declined to comment on Friday.

Since April, Kohl’s has been searching for an executive vice president of product development, which would be a new position.

Two sources said they believed Eskenasi already rejected an offer from Kohl’s, but one of them said that Kohl’s came back with a higher offer, which she was entertaining. “The Kohl’s rumor is hot,” said that source, who added that he heard Eskenasi was in the market for a fur coat, indicating she might be headed to where winters can be brutal. Kohl’s is based in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., whereas Saks is based in Birmingham, Ala.

Since its inception in January 1997, Saks Inc.’s department store group’s private brand organization has developed several brands, including Relativity, Pursuits, Laura Ashley, and Ruff Hewn in women’s apparel and accessories; Consensus, Cezani, RBM, and Ruff Hewn in men’s apparel; Jane Seymour and LivingQuarters in home; URIT in children’s apparel, and Intimate Essentials in intimate apparel.

Private brands comprise about 16 percent of the department store group’s total revenues of $6 billion, but the company wants it to go higher to around 20 percent. The product development team for the 240 department stores that Saks Inc. operates under such names as Parisian, Proffitt’s, McRae’s, Younkers, Herberger’s and Carson Pirie Scott was formed about seven years ago. Saks Inc. also operates Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises.Before joining Saks Inc. in 2003, Mustafa was senior vice president of business planning for Williams-Sonoma Inc. Earlier, he worked at Payless ShoeSource Inc. and Target Stores. Villa joined the Saks department store group in 1998 and earlier worked at Charming Shoppes for four years and at Sears for 24 years.

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