NEW YORK — Perry Ellis International is in talks to hire designer Patrick Robinson from its better sportswear licensee, Public Clothing Co., and to launch its own women’s collection business.

This story first appeared in the July 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The move would resolve a disagreement between Robinson and Public Clothing over the direction of the collection. PEI’s proposal would allow Robinson to continue designing under the Perry Ellis label with a more contemporary edge, while Public Clothing would keep producing a more mainstream collection in the better market with Robinson’s guidance.

It would be the first time for Perry Ellis to make its own high-end women’s sportswear since 1993, when the line was discontinued after dismal retail reaction to the infamous “grunge” collections of Marc Jacobs.

Although Perry Ellis officials would not confirm their plans on Monday, several people involved in the talks said the proposed change in Robinson’s employment had marked a turning point in the tone of negotiations between the designer and the two companies.

“In the last week, I’ve felt more positive that everything is going in the right direction and that I will have a long-term contract with Perry Ellis within the next few weeks,” Robinson said.

Dan Shamdasani, chief executive officer of Public Clothing Co., would not comment on the plan, but said, “I’m a great supporter of Patrick and we are looking at an enhanced role for him.”

The proposal is unusual because, by producing its own Perry Ellis women’s sportswear, PEI, which focuses on men’s wear, could tread into the territory of Public Clothing, its women’s sportswear licensee since March 2002, or into that of other women’s licensees.

However, executives from the two firms are trying to work out a solution that would keep Robinson attached to the brand since a dispute arose last month over the direction of the line. Robinson, hired by Public Clothing in April 2003, had hoped to build Perry Ellis as a force in the women’s contemporary market for specialty stores, alongside labels such as Marc by Marc Jacobs, rather than on the better floors of mainstream department stores.

PEI, which has been trying to revive the historic sportswear label’s prospects in the women’s wear market for the past few years, is effectively offering to give Robinson that creative outlet. According to those familiar with the negotiations, as an employee of PEI, Robinson would produce his own high-end Perry Ellis collection and also would be involved in choosing a president of that line, as well as oversee licensed women’s products, where he would continue to work with Public Clothing on the design of its product.

Robinson’s line would be targeted to retailers such as Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman, while Public Clothing would sell to department stores such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.