Diddy is in the news for his personal drama with ex-girlfriend Kim Porter, and his company Sean John has had difficulties in women's apparel in the past. But Combs is preparing several major launches in the women's category, beginning with the introduction of his fragrance with the Estée Lauder Cos., Unforgivable for Women, which will begin rolling out in October and is expected to top $45 million in the U.S. in its first year. Meanwhile, on the apparel end, Combs will introduce Sean John junior sportswear this coming holiday after a soft launch for spring.
In apparel, it's a case of try, try again for Combs. The holiday introduction will be his second official attempt at launching a women's collection. His contemporary line, Sean by Sean Combs, closed in March 2006 after being at retail for less than a year. That collection only brought in $3.5 million in wholesale volume during its first six months on the selling floor. While that isn't considered bad for a new contemporary designer collection, it isn't the high volume Combs is used to seeing: at the time, he did $450 million at retail with Sean John men's and now brings in $500 million in retail volume.
"A lot of people in this business can't admit when they are not ready and I wasn't ready for the contemporary category," Combs said. "It was such an aggressive category and I got off to a good start, but I knew I was so far away from where I wanted to be based on my competition.
When I made the decision to close Sean by Sean Combs, what I wanted to do was take the time to gain the knowledge in contemporary. I think it was better for me to get out then and go back to it four years down the line, four years smarter.
"What I learned is that no matter how much hype there is surrounding a line, in women's you have to be up for the fight. I still plan to come back with that line in a couple of years. It was in great stores and I would rather leave those stores while I had a good relationship and be able to come back. I would rather do it that way than have them kick me out."
Looking to reach $100 million in wholesale volume within the first three years at retail, Combs said his women's addition has been carefully thought out and slated to launch at the same time as the women's fragrance.
"When you just start working with factories, you have to work out the kinks, which is why we did a soft launch for spring," he said. "We've had very good sell-throughs and based on the test, we've already received rave reviews on the denim. Usually it takes a few seasons to get the denim right."
He may not be ready to dive back into contemporary, but Combs, who will celebrate 10 years in business in 2008, is of course confident his new junior sportswear line, licensed to G-III Apparel Group Ltd., will be a hit. He said he is up for the challenge of entering a market where few women's urban brands have made it big, with the exception of Baby Phat and Rocawear. Combs constantly mentions he aspires to lead his business in the same way that Ralph Lauren has managed Polo, although he has a long way to go before he reaches Lauren status.
"The Sean John customer is the girl looking for more," he explained.
"She wants a look that takes her up a notch without trying too hard.
She wants a touch of luxe, a little glam, a splash of hot girl and, most importantly, she wants the style and swagger that comes with the Sean John lifestyle. Her hair is effortlessly glamorous. It's classic bombshell hair with a young urban spin. Her makeup is like a second skin that only seeks to highlight her best feature, her own beauty.
She hangs out in the cool spots, she's the most popular girl and often voted best dressed, her peers look to her as the trendsetter. She is the influencer."
The collection, which wholesales between $16 and $150, consists of a large range of denim jeans, sexy tops, down jackets, fur bomber jackets, velour sweat sets, logo tanks, dresses and skirts. Combs said details were a must - such as with the real rabbit fur on jackets, chain-detailed zipper pulls on the back pockets of a pair of jeans and embroidery on the back of a velour track jacket. The collection will be sold out of G-III's Sean John women's showroom at 512 Seventh Avenue. Combs said when thinking of the design of the line, he thought of style icons including Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, Kelis and Madonna.
"[These] are exactly the types of individuals that come to mind when thinking of Sean John," he said. "[They are] smart, confident and sexy. They all have swagger and that cannot be bought or sold."
To launch the line, Combs has created an ad campaign featuring three rising stars - Asia (the newest Pussycat Doll), Cassie (a Bad Boy recording artist) and Lauren London (ATL, "Entourage"). Combs, of course, is also featured in the campaign, which was shot by Warwick Saint, the photographer who shot the advertising and promotional materials for "Charlie's Angels." The ads will appear in magazines such as Vibe, Giant, Complex and Seventeen.
"I wanted the campaign to be like Diddy's angels," he said. "And I think that Asia, Lauren and Cassie represent the Sean John girl in a perfect way."
It's been four years since his last fashion week show, but Combs promised a return to the runway in February (2008), when he will showcase his men's and women's collections. While he still hasn't decided on the venue, he hasn't ruled out his old stomping ground of Cipriani on 42nd Street.
"We are planning a show for February to celebrate 10 years," he said.
And while not giving too many details, he predicted, "I'll be back and it will be big."
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