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Sean “Diddy” Combs On Surviving the Fragrance Game

The fragrance education of Sean Combs.

It’s been 10 years since his first fragrance, Unforgivable, launched — and Sean “Diddy” Combs has used the decade to learn what works for his business and what doesn’t.

Combs, whose 3 AM scent for men was unveiled at Macy’s Herald Square during an appearance Wednesday night, discussed his product strategy with WWD after greeting more than 2,300 screaming fans, seemingly as many photographers, and a boatload of NYPD officers.

“I’m having much more fun this time around,” said a smiling Combs, standing on the red-carpeted stage he’d just shared with Terry Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s Inc. “This is my fourth scent, and we won two FiFi awards for two earlier. Now I’ve had more experience, I’m appreciating it more. And it’s also a huge accomplishment for my team, because a lot of [the fragrances that launched with Unforgivable] aren’t here anymore. We really wanted to put out a successful fragrance that reflected the current status of the brand.”

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Combs’ lifestyle brand has had a long-standing relationship with Macy’s — his fashion franchise includes 17 categories ranging from shoes, suits and loungewear to coats, ties and jeans. Combs himself also has a long-standing relationship with the store — before becoming famous, he worked first as a stock boy and then as a cashier at Macy’s.

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Combs has switched fragrance partners — Unforgivable was launched with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., and Parlux and Jacadi have teamed up to produce 3 AM.

“We’re always looking for ways to expand the partnership between Sean and Macy’s,” said Lundgren, noting that Combs’ existing products in the store are strong sellers. As well, Lundgren bought the first bottle of the scent Wednesday, swiping his red Macy’s credit card to fund the purchase, while Combs cracked a big grin and said, “I think I’ll put a $100 on this.”

The Macy’s chief continued, “And by launching this fragrance, we’ll also sell more Sean John apparel. It has a huge multiplier effect. It’s about the overall brand, and I think this is really going to launch them to a new level. Sean is a businessman. He understands what it takes to make products move, and he helps us do that. He is personally involved in making sure that he’s behind the product, and nothing gets out without his 100 percent blessing. And that’s really important.”

“I think that’s just authenticity,” Combs added. “I wake up and go to work every day [and design and create products.] I’m hands-on with everything that I do.”

Gesturing to the windows facing Broadway — all of which were devoted to the fragrance, including one that was playing the racy (and heavily edited) ad in which Combs appears with his real-life girlfriend, Cassie — Lundgren noted that “we don’t often give away our very precious windows at Macy’s. This is a serious give here. Love,” he grinned, gesturing to Combs. “I’m showing serious love with six windows here.”

And Combs dismisses thoughts that this scent might be a flash in the proverbial celebrity fragrance pan. “I think it’s about having a product and doing it right. I’m a mesh of art and commerce, and the celebrity side of it I use as a positive to promote the fragrance, but when I’m working every day I’m not working as Puff Daddy the celebrity — I’m working as Sean Combs, the founder and owner of Sean John, that was the CFDA designer of the year. It’s a little different from other celebrity brands. They haven’t been as respected by the industry as designer fragrances. So I’ve very thankful for that CFDA award — it helps me answer questions like this,” he concluded with a grin.