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(Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeSt.com/RETAIL.)

NEW YORK CITY-Liz Claiborne has expanded its specialty retail chains this year, and executives plan to do the same in 2006, adding 100 new units. The apparel giant, which currently operates 283 specialty units in various chains, plans to have retail stores eventually make up 35% of its total sales, up from the current level of 24%.

By year’s end, Liz Claiborne executives expect their combined chains to grow to 340 total units. By the end of the year officials plan 20 new stores in its Lucky Brand Jeans chain, as well as 20 for Sigrid Olsen, 12 new Elisabeths and four Mexx stores. They also forecast a total of 32 new outlet stores in North America and Europe.

Also on tap are plans to open the first Juicy Couture stores outside of Las Vegas by the end of the year, with one each in Atlanta and Dallas. The first Juicy Store opened in Simon Property Group’s Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas last year.

Executives do not plan to bring their chains’ unit counts as high as some competitors, they say. For example, they plan on growing Lucky Brand Jeans to a maximum of 250 stores from its current total of 95.

Other than its specialty units, Liz Claiborne operates 303 outlet stores under various brand names and 610 international concession units. Year-over-year same-store sales during the company’s Q2, which ended July 2, were up by 1%, due to a 10.7% specialty-retail jump and a 5.7% outlet loss.

Liz Claiborne’s net sales for its wholesale and retail businesses combined during the quarter were up 7.1%, at a record $1.1 billion. Retail sales were $294 million of that total.

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