By  on April 20, 2007

After savoring the scent of success to the tune of $150 million globally with Unforgivable for Men, his first fragrance, Sean "Diddy" Combs is coming back to the market late this summer with a women's version.

And, as with the first fragrance, he knows what works — stirring up a little controversy.

"I learned to be myself [with the first fragrance] and not apologize, and there's a void in the marketplace for something that evokes emotion through scent," said Combs during an exclusive interview at his Manhattan showroom. "This isn't a celebrity brand. I'm not in there acting like P. Diddy when I'm designing the fragrance….I'm in there as a designer, and that's how I come to work. This is a lifestyle; this is a movement. I'm not saying that in a cocky way, just an honest way. This is something that only I could do, because it is me. And if I'm authentic, I gotta be myself. I can't all of a sudden have the number-one fragrance and start being like Armani or Ralph, start trying to fit in. If anything, I'm trying to stand out even more."

And to do the unexpected. "I didn't want to take the easy way out as far as just making a feminine version of the men's. Women and men are totally different. I like a woman to smell like a woman, and a man to smell like a man. So we took a different direction than with the men's. There is a synergy note, bergamot, but it's used in such a light way, you don't really relate it being in there."

Combs' first scent, Unforgivable for Men, was launched first with a high-end, limited edition eau de parfum at Saks Fifth Avenue in December 2005. A second version, a less-expensive eau de toilette, was launched in department stores in February 2006. Sources estimated that the men's products have done more than $150 million in global retail sales to date, with an estimated $80 million of that done in the U.S. The women's version could easily top $45 million in the U.S. in its first year on counter in 1,800 American department and specialty store doors, said sources."Sean is the voice of a new generation," said John Demsey, group president at the Estée Lauder Cos., who oversees Sean John Fragrances, Estée Lauder, MAC Cosmetics and Tom Ford Beauty. "His appeal crosses all boundaries; he's got a point of view, and he's consistent. His men's fragrance has ranked in the top three in the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand and Australia since its launch. This is not just a U.S. brand. It is a global play."

And Combs thinks he knows why. "Throughout all of this, one of the things that we've stood on as our foundation has been that it's about the juice," said Combs. "The marketing is one thing, but marketing is just going to give you some buzz for a week or two. The thing that's made Unforgivable so successful and that's making it a classic that will sell forever like Chanel No.5 is the quality."

Unforgivable for Women, concocted by Givaudan's David Apel, is a sensual, creamy floral. Top notes are of bergamot, orange, neroli, cassis, grapefruit, apple, cucumber, piña colada and orange flower; the heart is of jasmine, violet, muguet, freesia and cyclamen, and the drydown is of amber, tonka beans, coco de mer and vanilla tears mixed with cedar, sandalwood, oak moss, patchouli, vetiver and iris.

Combs is particularly fond of the piña colada note. "I think we all have an emotional connection to the piña colada — nobody has a bad sense when they smell the piña coladas," he said with a laugh. "I had this vision of a woman being on the beach, and the Unforgivable man sees her — and [the fragrance is] just the way that that feels, the heat of it. You know, like when you warmed your skin up."

Two sizes of the scent, an eau de toilette, will be offered: a 2.5-oz. version for $55 and a 4.2-oz. size for $75. The bottle is a feminine version of the men's bottle, sprayed in a rose gold hue, Combs' favorite color. The scents will be on counter in August, while ancillaries are planned for spring 2008, noted Diana Espino-Gitlin, vice president and general manager of Sean John Fragrances.So who is the Unforgivable woman? Combs doesn't hesitate to describe her. "She's strong, she's into fashion, a woman who is sensual and passionate, and a quiet woman. A woman who picks the words that she chooses carefully, and when she speaks, she says what she means. She'd rather wear nothing before she wears something different every day. She finds a fragrance she loves and she sticks to it, and it's part of her lifestyle."

It's quite a specific vision —but Combs doesn't apologize for that. "You have to have a strong imagination to put together fragrances, to be in this industry," he said. "You can't be afraid to dream. A hit fragrance has a lot of dreaming behind it, and I know when I talk about it, it may sound a little crazy, but it's really how we come up with this stuff. And it's really the power of the belief that brings it all the way through."

Well, that and Combs' delight in pushing the envelope. He isn't afraid to shock people — in fact, he relishes the thought, and proved it with an ad visual implying a ménage à trois with the Unforgivable for men campaign. But he professes to be surprised by the media firestorm his first scent's ads stirred up. "I've seen way more riskier things out there," he said. "To me, it wasn't as much about the ménage à trois as it was about the interracialness of it. If it was just me and a black girl in there or a Puerto Rican girl in there, I think they would have let it ride. But it was so interracial and so new, it was kind of threatening. It wasn't meant to be that way…[but] in general, you don't see African-American men half-naked in an ad in bed with women. I'm not saying people were being racist, I just think it was a lot for them to really handle."

Apparently referring to the Unforgivable controversy, when he was forced to reshoot the threesome ad, Combs said: "I don't think someone didn't want the ad to run because they don't like black people; I wouldn't push it that far. I'm just saying that it was so shocking to people, that it was never seen before."However, Combs plans to be just as racy with the ads for his women's scent. "We're going to go with a full shot, where you'll see me grabbing her from behind," he said of the print ad, shot by Eric Ogden, which will break in October fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines. "My hand is in between her legs. I'm in a hallway with her — it's like, I met her in a bar, and we didn't make it to the hotel [room]. The ad really gives you almost a fly-on-the-wall view of something happening that is a little risqué."

The TV ad, directed by and starring Combs, cranks it up a notch further. "I meet this young lady in a bar, and we enter into a real deep conversation and we almost close the place, and right before the sun rises, we take this walk by Times Square and we go to this hotel and we don't quite make it upstairs. It walks that line, and I give credit where credit is due — I've gotten a lot of inspiration from things I saw Calvin Klein do back in the day. I think they were able to walk that line, give you a dream without making it too raunchy, too risqué — it could still be played on TV, but you got the point, and it sparked something in your mind." The TV commercials are expected to begin airing on Sept. 10.

The Internet also will play a big part in the scent's campaign: "I didn't just shoot a 4-minute commercial — I also did webisodes," said Combs. "There will be a long version of the commercial, which will be like a mini movie, and you'll have parts that will be blasted in different places." That will include both Combs' Web site, as well as his MySpace page. "By the time the fragrance comes out, I'll have a million friends on MySpace. These are people who are my community. They'll be able to see the commercial first and spread it around to their friends. Once they do that, you're talking about being able to touch three million people a day." Sources estimated that the advertising and promotional budget for the new scent would top $10 million in the next 12 months.Combs also is planning to tour this summer. "We had a huge success in launching [Unforgivable for men] overseas because of the touring," said Combs, adding that Unforgivable's ad was played at the venues before the concerts started as part of a lifestyle positioning. "The thing is to make it natural, so that when people are coming in, they're having fun — like, 'He's giving us something special. We want this. He's not asking us to buy anything. He's just bringing us into his world.' It's just really maximizing and publicizing the access."

Combs does that in his numerous media appearances, as well. "It's not a hard sell now, to be honest," he said. "We're not like, 'Oh, we have to go talk about our products everywhere.' It's just something that they're interested in. The other night I was on "[Late Night With] Conan [O'Brien]," and he grabbed my shades. We just did the new shades campaign. It was sort of an organic thing, rather than just being on TV and telling people, 'Oh, go buy my stuff.'"

In fact, Combs doesn't see himself as a "celebrity" brand. "I take my hat off to all of the celebrity brands — there is a marketplace out there for them, and those brands can stand the test of time if they control the quality of it," he said. "If my celebrity can get you to smell or enter the world of Sean John, that's cool. But my celebrity is not going to keep you there. It's going to be my quality and my level of design."

When he's not working on his fragrances — in fact, Combs is already hard at work on his next fragrance masterbrand — he's growing his 10-year-old Sean John brand in other ways. "When we started out, people perceived us more as an urban brand, and now, as we are evolving, we're getting into suits and neckties and eyewear; we're about to announce watches and footwear."

Of his women's apparel line, Combs said: "Not to sugarcoat it, but it's on hiatus. I'm taking more time so that I don't do any damage to the brand. If it wasn't going to be a huge success — I didn't know everything I needed to know — then it was time for me to take a step back. Right now, my focus is the young, contemporary juniors stuff; we've had more experience in that. Hopefully, in the next two years, Sean by Sean Combs will be back. It's also my schedule, making sure that I have the time to really focus on it."Baby carriages? Once they weren't on the agenda, but since welcoming twin daughters D'Lila Star and Jessie James Combs with longtime girlfriend Kim Porter, he's reconsidering the idea. "There has to be a reason, an emotional connection, for me to be able to do something," he said. "I now have a little bit more experience in that. I kind of know what's wrong with some of the baby carriages." Specifically? "Things being functional, the design — I'm giving out some of my secrets, but there are not enough risks that are taken [currently] as far as design and what fits in with the father's and the mother's fashion sensibilities."

His twins, born in December, have inspired Combs in another way: "We already have boys' clothes, but we're about to announce a line for little girls," he said. The twins "definitely put things on the fast track for closing a girls' partnership," Combs said with a laugh. "And they'll be ready to model soon!"

Speaking of modeling, Combs has still got another runway show in his sights. "I thought I was going to do one [this fall], but I didn't know [at that time] that I was going to do the movie of 'A Raisin in the Sun.' [A release date has not yet been set.] So I've been shooting that, and I had to choose one or the other. And I'm focusing on films. But I will be returning to the runway."


"I'll get back to you," he said with a roguish grin.

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