Next is gearing up for a huge push into young branded fashion, through an etail format selling denim, footwear and sportswear under the working title 'The Branded Directory'.
The retail giant is expected to unveil the new site for autumn 07. It has been approaching young fashion brands over the past nine months, with a view to getting them on board ahead of a pre-Christmas launch.
A source from one brand specialising in denim and high-end fashion, which has signed to the site, told Drapers the venture would not feature Next branding.
"Next has the capability and is very serious," said the source. "We are going with it because there is no link to the Next business, but the group has investment and multi-channel knowledge behind it."
The team is in talks with 20 brands, which are understood to include denim brands Diesel, Rock & Republic and 7 For All Mankind, along with niche player Paper Denim & Cloth, according to sources. Wrangler and G-Star are also believed to have been approached, although it is unknown whether the pair have chosen to commit to the new venture.
The boss of one denim brand told Drapers he had seen the presentation and graphic imagery for the online offer. "It looks incredibly slick and contemporary, without a hint of Next branding," he said. "The company is going into etail in a serious way."
It is understood that Next's back-office systems will power the new site, using the technology already in place for Next.co.uk.
The retailer's home shopping arm, comprising the Next Directory catalogue and the online offer, posted sales of £774.5 million for the year to January 2007, up 13% from £685m the year before.
Next has drafted in a new team to spearhead the venture, including former JD Sports head of buying operations Katherine O'Driscoll as womenswear merchandiser. Ex-Littlewoods Shop Direct group merchandising director Ranj Singh is understood to be on board as product operations director.
Next's pitch to potential brands centres on the chain's high street retail power and how that could translate successfully online. "Next knows it is a lucrative market that is virtually untapped," said a source.
A Next spokeswoman confirmed it was expanding its branded offer, but denied the retailer was launching a new venture.