Sean “Diddy” Combs is on the way. You know Combs: the suave guy in Ciroc vodka ads, the hip-hop impresario once known as Puffy, Puff Daddy and P. Diddy — the rapper who rarely performs anymore, the multimillion dollar man. He’s in the car, and that car is grinding through traffic on the way to his office, which sits on the third floor of a Garment District high-rise. He has arrived at the building. He is almost here.
Combs is a mogul, and like all moguls he has a team that tracks him with GPS precision. He also has a history of being late, which feeds stereotypes about self-importance but is mostly just frustrating. And so, like an airline giving regular updates on a delayed flight, Combs Enterprises marks their man’s progress.
When Combs arrives, he is apologetic, and he is dressed in black: jeans, T-shirt and a long-sleeve, pock-marked shirt. He is accessorized with gold medallions. He is broad-shouldered and tall. At 46, he has a lean, unlined face that, when not in motion, seems to rest in judgment. Yeah, he shrugs. That inscrutable mien, it throws people.
But today, he is highly emotive. There is a lot going on. He is planning a reunion concert of his music company’s hitmakers. He has just announced that he was the organizer behind a charter school opening this fall in the Harlem neighborhood where he was born. He has also just launched a girls clothing line. After interrupting one conversation because he is summoned to take a call — only to return and then leave again — he finally collapses theatrically onto a cream-colored sectional in the lounge that abuts his office and curls into a near fetal position. This room, with its television and sound system, recalls a VIP cave in a very posh club. It is black and white and glossy all over.
Combs Enterprises is home to not only Bad Boy Entertainment — the music business that begat a vodka brand and a cable network and a marketing firm, a line of fancy bottled water and a philanthropic foundation — but also the project that is arguably his most impressive: Sean John, Combs’s full-throated, built-from-the-ground-up fashion venture.
Eighteen years after its launch drew eye rolls from the fashion establishment, Sean John is racking up more than $400 million in annual sales. It is sold in every major market across the country. And even while the brand has become a mainstream staple at Macy’s, Rihanna has anointed Sean John with newfound cool, strutting around town in one of its original pink velour tracksuits and a Dior handbag.
With Sean John, Combs wasn’t just another celebrity looking to extend his brand with a piece of the garment trade. He wanted to create fashion — and change the face of the fashion industry. He did. This is his due.