"I'm the hardest-working man in the Estée Lauder family!" proclaimed Sean "Diddy" Combs at the launch party for his new Unforgivable for Women scent. "I am the superstar in that building!" Turning to Lauder chief operating officer Dan Brestle, who laughed in response, Combs added "I challenge any brand to work as hard as me."
The event, held Wednesday night at a five-story Upper East Side town house, drew more than 800 people.
"I wanted to do something different," said Combs of the party, pointing out several staged rooms — each of which depicted a titillating scene, such as a couple showering together behind a nearly transparent fabric backdrop and another couple deep in the heat of seduction on another floor. "It's hot in here, because people are excited," Combs said of the vignettes, which were staged to echo his ad campaign. "I had friends stop by to support me, and the fragrance is officially launched."
Those friends included Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé Knowles, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, Ashton Kutcher and DJ Clue.
"I like [Unforgivable for Women] because it's sexy and refreshing and has a lot of really good elements to it," said Franklin.
While she hasn't yet fronted an eponymous fragrance, Knowles — a jeweled Fendi clutch securely in one hand — got enthusiastic about her commercial for Emporio Armani's new fragrance, Diamonds, not to mention her apparel in said spot. "They're letting me keep the dress," said Knowles of the jewel-encrusted silver strapless Armani minidress she wears in the ads. "It's about 80 pounds — so I don't know if I'll ever wear it again — but I get to keep it. It's all stones — it's really heavy!"
Interrupted during an intriguing conversation — "Cary Grant never wore makeup!" Kutcher was overheard saying to Combs — Kutcher responded to a query about his thoughts on the fragrance by leaning over to smell it on Combs. He then realized his mistake, joking, "Oh wait, it's a women's fragrance, it wouldn't be on him."
Later, Kutcher said, "I haven't smelled it yet, but taste is everything and [Diddy] certainly has it all. When you come from a place where you don't have a lot, and you have an appreciation for something like fragrance that most can't afford, that's a gift.""He loves me," said Combs with a confident smile.
Speaking of love, it appears that the market is following suit. "Today was the first day of our launch, and it was already outselling the men's fragrance," said Combs. Industry sources say the women's scent — in its first two weeks prior to Wednesday's launch — already was selling at a rate equal to 70 percent of his top-five men's scent. The plan called for 40 percent at this point. Sources estimate that the women's fragrance could do $40 million to $75 million in global retail sales in its first year. "We've had over a million hits on our MySpace page [the party was also broadcast live on MySpace]," Combs continued.
So confident is Combs about Unforgivable for Women's prospects, he's issuing a challenge to the scent's competitors. "I'm sending a challenge out to my female counterparts in celebrity fragrances. I'll meet them all on Fifth Avenue and have a blind test, like the Pepsi challenge. I'll have it in front of the store — J.Lo, Sarah Jessica Parker, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani. I'm going to see if they show up for that." He reinforced the challenge with a statement released on YouTube.
The chutzpah of Combs declaring a celebrity smackdown clearly amused — and impressed — John Demsey, a group president of Lauder, who observed, "He knows what women want; he's got the taste. People say celebrity is over, but not when it comes to him. He is a force of nature. He should not be categorized. When he puts his mind to it, he gets it done."
But no one's prouder of Combs' accomplishments than his mother, Janice. "I'm most proud of my son's success. He's really done it all." — Julie Naughton, Pete Born and Michelle Edgar
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