Clothing giant Jones Apparel Group Inc on Tuesday posted a slight rise in second quarter profit and announced a multi-million dollar battle for fashion firm Kasper ASL Ltd with rival Kellwood Co.

The company, whose labels include Jones New York, Gloria Vanderbilt and Erika, reported a net profit for the quarter ended July 5 of $71.1 million, or 54 cents a share, compared with $66.5m, or 49 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Sales edged up one per cent to $980m from $972m with the firm now seeing full-year earnings, before costs related to exiting the Polo Ralph Lauren lines, of $2.75 to $2.80 a share, versus its previous outlook of $2.90 to $3.10 per share.

Jones last month said it would stop producing the "Lauren" line it had made under license with Polo Ralph Lauren and launch a rival label although it faces a court battle with Polo RL over issues related to "Lauren".

It said in a statement today its new line, called Jones New York Signature, will launch in more than 700 department stores next spring, with expected net sales of $200m for the full year 2004.

Jones also announced it will enter the race for bankrupt women's suit and sportswear producer Kasper ASL Ltd which recently agreed to be bought by St Louis-based apparel giant Kellwood Co for $163m.

Jones CEO Peter Boneparth, said: "We are quite satisfied with our second quarter results, which were achieved during a very difficult period as consumers remained wary of the sluggish economy and higher levels of unemployment.

"While the overall retail environment improved slightly from the first quarter, it continued to present numerous obstacles across our various businesses.

"Promotional sales were broad across all channels of distribution impacting many of our wholesale businesses, and we accordingly experienced slightly lower orders across many of our wholesale businesses, as our retail partners focused on controlling inventories within their channels of distribution."

He continued: "We have decided to enter the auction process for Kasper ASL Ltd, which will shortly be emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

"We see numerous strategic advantages to acquiring Kasper. Its portfolio of brands, which include Kasper and Anne Klein, can be excellent additions to our existing branded portfolio.

"This potential acquisition would be a good fit within all our product segments and offers product growth opportunities and cost synergies."