By  on May 7, 2008

NEW YORK — Talk about strange bedfellows.

The teaming of Target Corp. and Barneys New York has to be one of the oddest pairings in recent fashion history. The mass market purveyor of everything from diapers and lightbulbs to blenders and dog food will introduce its eco-friendly Rogan for Target's Go International line at Barneys' Madison Avenue flagship on Friday until Sunday, and then at Barneys' Los Angeles store from May 16 to 18. Barneys will limit purchases to three pieces. The line will only be in stock for five days and, after that, shoppers will have to wait for the collection's debut at Target as part of its Go International line.

The arrangement is not without irony — and lots of questions. Barneys sells designer Rogan Gregory's primary line, which features trousers for $230, dresses for $320 and anoraks for $450. Rogan for Target will be priced between $15 and $45. Barneys presents itself as an arbiter of style, selling collections by everyone from Balenciaga to Lanvin at prices that can run into the thousands of dollars for a single piece. Target prides itself on style on the cheap, with a hype machine that often promises more than the stores deliver. Just consider the odor of pizza or pretzels that greets customers as they walk through its doors.

So why is this odd couple getting together?

Target's aspirational low- and moderate-income customers, who are being squeezed by the economic downturn, may be forgoing new clothes in favor of necessities or turning to stores with sharper prices, including Wal-Mart. Target's same-store sales have come under pressure in recent months and it also has to rebuild its apparel business after losing its personification of fashion, Isaac Mizrahi, who's not renewing his contract at the end of the year.

Barneys, meanwhile, is said to be having some difficulty in markets such as Chicago and Houston. And in common with many luxury retailers, it is battling the turbulence created by the weak economy. The retailer also has a new owner — Dubai-based investment fund Istithmar — that is eager to roll out more full-line Barneys stores as well as Co-ops. Some observers have said the Co-ops outside of New York are struggling somewhat, while Barneys tried an aggressive expansion of flagships in the early Nineties, only to end up in Chapter 11 in 1996.

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