NEW YORK — Market sources say Target Corp. is resurrecting the Gene Meyer label in a deal aimed at bringing a proprietary designer name to its department stores.

The retail giant has inked a license with the designer to distribute both men’s and women’s sportswear, tailored clothing and accessories under the Gene Meyer name in its "better divisions," according to sources, which would mean distribution in the company’s Marshall Field’s stores, and possibly the moderate-priced Mervyn’s chain.

Target officials did not return calls to comment on the report last week.

Meyer was spotted in Europe recently in the company of Target executives, shopping trends and preparing for the relaunch of his label, indicating he will likely be closely involved in the design and direction of the collection. Gene Meyer-branded product is expected to be in stores by the end of this year, according to sources.

Several calls to Meyer’s home in New York were not returned.

Meyer’s men’s collection business folded last summer, following the financial failure of licensee Dino di Milano. In December, Meyer signed with licensing agent SOS Management to seek out new business opportunities. In February, Stephen Wayne, chairman of SOS Management, said he was close to finalizing a deal and that he envisioned a $20 million to $50 million retail business for the Gene Meyer brand in 2004.

Target Corp. is well known for the string of brands with designer cachet it has brought into its corporate fold, but it has previously concentrated on its Target Stores discount chain, not its department stores. Target discount stores now boast proprietary brands including Mossimo, Cherokee and Phys. Sci. in the apparel category; Michael Graves, Philippe Starck, Todd Oldham, Swell by Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig in home furnishings; and Liz Lange in maternity wear. Most recently the company signed Isaac Mizrahi to create an exclusive line of women’s sportswear, which will hit stores in August.

"Target has made an art form out of exclusive brands," noted Todd Slater, a retail analyst at Lazard Frères. "In apparel it can be difficult for discounters to secure national brands for their stores, so forging their own brands has been a necessity." Along those lines, Wal-Mart has been growing its George apparel business and Kmart has bet big on Joe Boxer.Increasingly, however, full-service department stores have gotten in on the act, snapping up existing brands to complement their portfolios of private labels. Earlier this month, as reported, Federated Department Stores announced an agreement with Tarrant Apparel Group to exclusively distribute the latter’s American Rag brand in Macy’s, The Bon Marché, Burdines and Rich’s/Lazarus/Goldsmith’s doors in the U.S. and Canada. The young men’s and juniors’ label is expected to ring up $100 million in retail sales within two years.

This move toward exclusive merchandise and recognizable brands is part of Federated’s efforts to differentiate itself from competitors and remain relevant to shoppers. "One big problem for men’s wear today is supply and demand. There are so many places to buy the product and it’s all the same," Federated’s Terry Lundgren said in an interview shortly after his promotion to chief executive officer. This is why Federated is seeking "exclusive or very limited-distribution product."

At the end of March, Target Corp. operated 62 Marshall Field’s stores in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The Mervyn’s division had 265 stores in 14 states in the Midwest, South and West Coast, while Target Stores operated 1,167 units.

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