With 13 fragrances under his belt, Sean Combs has established himself as a formidable — and tenacious — player in the beauty industry.
Launching his first scent, Unforgivable, in 2006, Combs entered the market during the heyday of celebrity fragrances. While many were one-hit-wonders, his fragrance made a huge impact with consumers, thanks in large part to its risqué ad campaign featuring Combs in bed with two women.
“People were surprised when they smelled and saw the quality of the fragrance,” said Diana Espino, global vice president of marketing and brand development at Parlux Fragrances, which also helped launch the scent at the Estée Lauder Cos., which licensed the fragrance. “[Combs] was successful at a time when all others in that genre that did fashion were out of business. It proves that he has such a knack for marketing and promotions.”
Unforgivable’s campaign, which was so controversial that many retailers didn’t want to show it, helped the fragrance reach the number-one spot on NPD’s top fragrance list five months after its launch, taking the long-held rank away from Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio. Unforgivable retained that spot for 18 months.
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“He really had the audience’s attention and he came out with something that was quite unusual and very risqué,” said Linda G. Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation. “He had a built-in audience at that point in time and he really translated his persona and his brand into the fragrance.”
At its peak, Unforgivable reportedly generated sales of $98 million. Its success also led to fragrance extensions, including Unforgivable Woman, Unforgivable Black and Unforgivable Night, among others.
“We’ve had this success because of [Combs’] sensibility and attention to detail,” said Jeff Tweedy, president and chief executive officer of Combs’ lifestyle brand, Sean John. “He understands how a woman wants a man to smell.”
I Am King, Combs’ second fragrance with the Estée Lauder Cos., evoked the message of all men being kings, with Combs seen in the campaign surrounded by models and cruising on a jet ski dressed in a tuxedo. The fragrance didn’t experience the same success as Unforgivable and the Estée Lauder Cos. later dropped its license.
Six years later, Combs made his return to the fragrance world with a new scent and a new partner. Working with Jacavi Beauty Group and Parlux Ltd., he launched 3AM as the celebrity fragrance fad was dwindling down. However, his aim was to leverage his fashion empire and attract Millennials via social media to continue the buzz he created with Unforgivable.
“He’s a fantastic marketer and he’s a promoter of a lifestyle,” Levy continued. “It’s not just fragrance and it’s not just fashion. He’s one of the big ones to start a lifestyle brand.”
While 3AM experienced a sales stumble, Combs was not deterred from continuing his fragrance business. One year later he came out with his latest fragrance, Sean John, which launched at Macy’s in October 2016.
Steering away from the provocative messaging of his previous fragrances, Sean John is meant to represent a more mature persona while maintaining the cool and aspirational vibe of all of Combs’ fragrances.
“He shaped [celebrity fragrances] during a time when everyone was doing it,” Tweedy said of Combs’ impact on the fragrance industry. “No one had the longevity that we have. The consumer isn’t foolish; they know whose name is on the bottle and who is actually creating the fragrance.”
Among all his projects, like his recently premiered Fox reality show “The Four,” Combs is working on his next fragrance pillar to launch at the end of the year. The new, yet-to-be-named fragrance takes inspiration from Combs’ original Unforgivable scent, giving the fragrance a refresh that is meant to excite his loyal customers.
“No one thought we’d be together for 20 years,” Tweedy said of the brand’s legacy. “Everyone thought we’d just do baggy clothes. Now we’ve created a lifestyle in a brand.”