NEW YORK — It’s the takeover of the day in the fast-consolidating vendor community and the latest has Kellwood Co. apparently in the lead to buy Phat Fashions.

Sources said Russell Simmons, founder and chief executive of Phat Fashions, has been in talks with Kellwood and Tommy Hilfiger Corp. about a possible deal, but at the moment, it appears Kellwood has the edge.

“We are still open, but the sale sounds final,” Simmons told WWD Monday, declining to identify which partner he’s leaning toward. “We are seeking a partnership so we can grow.”

Officials at Hilfiger and Kellwood declined to comment. A New York Times story Sunday reported on widespread rumors in the industry that Simmons was shopping his company around.

Phat Fashions includes the Phat Farm men’s and the Baby Phat women’s lines. The company has sales of about $260 million a year, with the majority from Phat Farm and about $70 million from Baby Phat. Simmons, however, sees the women’s line as the primary growth generator.

While anything can happen in the rough and tumble world of mergers and acquisitions, a deal with Kellwood works on many fronts.

For one, Kellwood already has two licensing deals with Simmons for Def Jam University and Run Athletics. Kellwood also has a long track record of acquisitions and many back-end strengths.

Simmons’ main concern is that he remain at the helm of his company as chairman. He also is looking to grow his men’s and women’s lines through faster deliveries and a larger department store presence. Currently, the majority of Phat Fashions’ business is done through specialty stores.

The entrepreneur has been known to be frustrated for some time with the apparent inability of Seventh Avenue to recognize the potential of Phat Fashions and the urban market. “The big names in this business are so hardheaded, and that’s why my company is growing and theirs are not,” Simmons told attendees of Fairchild’s annual Teens & Tweens Summit in March. “Companies like Kellwood, Claiborne and Jones aren’t paying attention to the numbers. I’m still looking to partner. I also need more distribution.”Consultant Emanuel Weintraub said Kellwood is in a very good position to bid on Phat Fashions. The company has been on the acquisition hunt for a while, just missing out on Kasper A.S.L. when it was outbid by Jones Apparel Group.

“It’s really about the profile of the acquiring companies,” noted the consultant. “If the money is OK with Simmons, Kellwood gets it because, if you look at their profile, they are a very successful acquiring company.

“They can point to a number of companies that have done very, very well and owners who can give testimony,” he noted. “Tommy doesn’t have an acquisition track record and you get into the issue of chemistry.”

However, he said both companies could handle the acquisition.

By expanding the Phat Fashions brands into new merchandise categories, Weintraub added, “The overall long-term potential to possibly make that into a billion-dollar brand is not unrealistic.”

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