NEW YORK — With Neil Barrett now on board as creative director and already designing a series of collections, Puma is the latest athletic company upping its designer ante.

Puma has signed a four-year deal with Barrett, whose résumé includes a five-year run at Gucci and a four-year stint at Prada. Reached in his home office in Milan Friday, Barrett said each season he will develop women’s and men’s technical and lifestyle apparel, accessories and footwear based around a specific sport that Puma sponsors. His first cobranded collection will bow in Milan in January during men’s fashion week and will hit stores in late March.

Barrett declined to identify the sports he’s focused on, due partially to Puma’s plans to announce a “huge” sponsorship deal. Puma will continue to carry Barrett’s sport-specific collections from one season to the next, even though he will be adding new ones.

“Most designers who are independent attach themselves to one major label that funds them. It is way more interesting this time to work with a youth-based line. Teenagers today basically wear Puma, Nike or Adidas — those are their designers,” Barrett said. “Obviously, they can get to so many more people than fashion companies can.”

To make sure his reach is wide, Barrett’s collection will cover nine price tiers. Puma is still hammering out what those will be, Barrett said. There will be affordable basics, as well as high-end items to be sold in better specialty stores. One objective is to have customers buy items from different price ranges. The first collection alone is expected to result in “more than one million” unit sales, Barrett said.

The designer said he also was attracted to the challenge of working in a different realm.

“I was no longer challenged. A challenge is doing something not in your normal area,” Barrett said. “This is another world. That’s why it’s fascinating. My total experience has been in Gucci and Prada, and then my own small entity.”

In recent years, activewear makers have aligned themselves with designers to try to gain some clout with designer customers. Adidas landed scores of free publicity and new customers after teaming up with Yohji Yamamoto. Reebok revved up interest in its label, by having Diane von Furstenberg design a cobranded tennis line that Venus Williams unveiled at Wimbledon.Barrett will continue to be based in Milan, where he employs 20 full-time people and 20 part-timers. Barrett’s name will be printed along with Puma on each garment in some capacity.

This is not Barrett’s first alliance with Puma. He has worked as a consultant for the company for two years, developing the concept behind its 96 Hours, a capsule collection encompassing a range of products from apparel to underwear to footwear. In 2001, it launched in better stores like Harrods and Louis Boston. Puma plans to go forward with 96 Hours.

“The new line will be more for what the sports world wears during free time,” Barrett said. “It’s less for the fashion market and more for everyday wear. But obviously, it will appeal to the trendier sportsperson, too.”

All this talk about sports is welcome news to Barrett, someone who likes rowing, sailing and skiing but rarely gets to participate. “It’s great in life, when your work forces you to do something you like because you’d never take time to indulge otherwise.”

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