VF Corp and Phillips-Van Heusen Corp are believed to be the front-runners in the race to buy the Calvin Klein fashion company, three years after it was first put up for sale.

According to an article in Thursday's Wall Street Journal, VF Corp, which makes Lee and Wrangler Jeans, and Phillips-Van Heusen Corp, whose shirt brands include Van Heusen and Geoffrey Beene, are in talks with designer Calvin Klein and partner Barry Schwartz - although neither are near to closing a deal.

On offer is a business that consists mainly of the design studio and a number of licenses for Calvin Klein products, but which has struggled so far to find a strategic investor. The closest it has come to closing a deal was with Warnaco Group Inc - maker of CK jeans and underwear - which nearly bought Calvin for around $900 million before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

VF, based in Greensboro, NC, is America's largest apparel maker with revenue of $5.2 billion in 2001. VF has reportedly expressed interest in the past in CK jeans and underwear, and gaining control of Calvin Klein would add a highly desirable brand name to its roster and give the company entree to new markets the newspaper reports.