Gap Inc, the US's biggest speciality apparel retailer, is preparing to launch a new chain aimed at women over the age of 35.

Gary Muto, Gap brand president, will run the chain, which is directed towards the nearly 40 million US women born from 1946 to 1964.

The retailer plans to open up to ten new outlets in two geographic regions in the second half of 2005, making this its first new chain in a decade.

Gap chief executive Paul Pressler told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on Tuesday: "We'll start with 10 stores and see where it goes.

"When we think about growth strategies, we are looking for opportunities that are going to meaningfully add to our growth, given the size of our company."

There has been speculation for months that Gap may be launching a new chain alongside its Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy formats.

But the company is refusing to say what the chain will be called, where the stores will be located or what they will look like.

Instead, it says the new brand concept is "based on extensive consumer insight work done by the company over the past two years across the $174 billion US apparel market.

"That work helped identify meaningful growth opportunities in customer segments not currently served by the company's existing brands."

Mr Muto is credited with stabilising the Gap brand during the past two years and assembling a talented design, marketing and merchandising team.

In a statement on Wednesday, the company said it has retained the executive search firm Egon Zehnder International to conduct an external search for a president of Gap brand's domestic business.

Gap Inc recently reported a 5 per cent drop in July same-stores sales on disappointing summer clearance results.