In1999, Sean Combs, who we knew then as “Puff Daddy,” appeared on the cover of Forbes, along with Jerry Seinfeld, because he cracked the top 20 of the magazine’s inaugural Celebrity 100 list. Fifteen years later, Combs is still on the list at number 31. Say what you want about him, but with his CFDA award-winning clothing line Sean John, his Revolt TV network, and the popular vodka brand Cîroc under his belt, there’s no denying that he is a gifted businessman. Combs’ enviable success in the beauty world is another example of how he uses his savvy marketing and self-promotion skills to turn everything he touches into covetable consumer gold. His first fragrance, Unforgiveable, launched in 2006, and raked in $100 million globally in its first year. The scent went on to win a FiFi Award for Fragrance of the Year in the men’s luxe category. So did I Am King, which debuted in 2009. The question now is, can he do it again?
On May 6, Combs will present 3AM, his first new scent in six years, with a high-profile appearance at Macy’s in Herald Square. The fresh, citrusy juice is safe enough to appeal to a broad audience, and Combs certainly has a powerful brand behind him. But the celeb scent market isn’t exactly booming anymore. The 45-year-old mogul is the first to admit that the game has changed. “A lot of people that were in the fragrance business before, they’re not here anymore, and that’s from the celebrity side and the brand side. Fragrance is an extremely hard business,” he says. When asked why he dared to re-enter the industry now, Combs replied with his trademark confidence: “Because the game needs me.”
It’s doubtful that 3AM will get lost in a sea of spring launches, not only because everybody loves a good comeback story, but also because of the shocking promotional video. It features Combs and his girlfriend, Cassie Ventura—both of whom push the envelope in a provocative new direction. (Let’s just say that this couple make Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele look buttoned up). On his way to film a TV appearance, Diddy called us up to chat about the sexy shoot, his inspiration, and what he hopes you’re doing at 3 a.m.
How did you develop the concept for the video?
The concept for the video represents one of the things that 3 a.m. is for me. It’s a very one-on-one time. It’s a time to have fun and push the envelope a little bit. It’s definitely an hour where you would find yourself with a young lady. Anything can happen at 3 a.m., and in the video, you see a fantasy that’s in my head of what happened that night.
How involved were you in coming up with the different scenes?
I worked hand in hand with Nabil [Elderkin], who is an excellent director. I gave him the broad strokes, and we just turned the cameras on and let it all happen. A lot of the stuff you see, like the running up the stairs, we didn’t do it 20 times. We shot the whole video in seven hours.
The last scene with you and Cassie is really steamy—what kind of reaction do you think you’re going to get from it?
I think if people hear about the video, they’re going to hear that it’s racy and provocative, but I also think they’re going to hear people say that it’s beautiful. That whole interaction has nothing to do with sex as much as it has to do with love. My concept is that love is the new sexy.
Did the shoot make you miss making music videos?
Yeah, but I also like this style of commercial. I was brought up during that Calvin Klein time, and those sexy videos are part of what made me want to get into the fragrance industry. It was those types of ads.
What vibe are you hoping to evoke with this fragrance?
First of all, I want [people] to like the design of the bottle, but just like with any fragrance, I want somebody to stop you in the elevator and ask you what you’re wearing. No matter what the fragrance is called, that’s my objective. And I want a lot of people to get laid to it!
When you’re creating a new fragrance, do you have certain notes in mind or do you bring other elements to the perfumers for inspiration?
I usually have a name first, then I go to the scent and the design of the bottle. I work directly with my partners and they give me almost all the creative freedom. Scent-wise, I usually say the same thing: I want to smell clean; I want it to smell good. I don’t like woody, musky smells. I use bergamot in almost every fragrance—things that relate to freshness but also give you an erotic type of smell.
Are you picturing this as a going-out scent?
It doesn’t have to be literal. 3AM is a moment, a time or a feeling. The customer is sophisticated enough to know they can wear it 24 hours.
Did you intend for the scent to be unisex?
It evolved into being unisex. I think when you plan to make a unisex fragrance, it doesn’t work. But when you just make a good fragrance that doesn’t smell like you’re trying to be masculine, you always have a great opportunity [to attract] women. In this case, it was made for a man, but a lot of women liked it, so it’s unisex.
What are you usually doing at 3 o’clock in the morning?
Everybody has a 3 a.m. experience, and usually it’s not the regular story that you’re talking about. Why are you even up and out at 3 a.m.? Yeah, there is a story there.
3AM by Sean John, $55, available beginning May 6 at macys.com