An audience with 'Diddy'

Last month, I Am King, the second fragrance from rapper-actor-entrepreneur Sean "Diddy" Combs hit the shelves of Macy's department stores. This month, the Sean John scent starts selling in department stores nationwide. We caught up with the multi-hyphenate Combs on the phone from New York so he could explain how he hit upon the clean, fruity concoction that includes notes of tangerine, orange, cranberry and a whisper of the kir royale cocktail; the Barack Obama connection; and why it's time for a black James Bond.

Isn't it a little hard in this economy to pitch a scent to consumers with the image of you frolicking in Monte Carlo? Especially one called I Am King?

There wasn't any frolicking -- and it's not about evoking money or status. We shot the campaign in Monte Carlo because it was a beautiful background. It's about celebrating men and self-affirmation.

What's with the name?

It's something that was instilled in me when I was younger -- my grandmother used to call me her little king.

And your last N.Y. Fashion Week show touched on royalty a little bit, right?

There's a king in all of us, that if we just answer the call it's there for us to take. This fragrance is dedicated to Martin Luther King [Jr.], Muhammad Ali and -- especially right now -- Barack Obama. The best way to explain what I Am King is about is to look at a picture of Barack Obama.

I've read that creating [your first fragrance] Unforgivable took 666 attempts before you found the right formulation. Was it easier the second time out?

This scent took longer -- it's like your sophomore album. You've got to make sure it's right. We went through something like a thousand variations.

You say you're really involved with every step, so is it you in a white lab coat holding beakers?

I'm not in there in a white coat, but I'm in there with the guys in the white coats. It's like a marriage. I was born to do this because I'm very anal-retentive and I'm a perfectionist and I think that's what you really need to make a great fragrance.

Was there a particular note or scent in the mix that triggers something for you?

Definitely the Imperial French berry; it was designed especially for this fragrance.

What does it bring to mind?

It's like when you see someone with the simplest black suit and white shirt on -- it's straight to the point and beautiful.

Were you involved in the design of the bottle as well?

Yeah, I wanted it to be this very sleek, modern, architectural design, a beautiful, regal piece of glass that would sit on a very futuristic king's mantle.

Is this for a different customer than Unforgivable? Or a different occasion?

It's definitely designed for [when you're wearing] your tuxedo and when you're cleaning up well.

Someone mentioned James Bond was the inspiration behind the white tuxedo jacket and black tie you wear in the ad campaign. Is it time for a black Bond?

I think it's time for a black guy to save the world. White people aren't the only people that can save the world, I think we deserve a chance at least one time . . . get some equal opportunity, affirmative action going on over at the [spy] agency.

Are there plans for a women's counterpart like there was with Unforgivable?

The women's component is going to be out this summer. We're going to call it I Am Queen.

In October, you bought the Enyce brand. You're an investor in the Zac Posen label, and Sean John has been on a bit of a hiring spree. What's behind the activity?

I'm definitely ramping things up on the fashion side, in the process of reinventing the Sean John brand, which just had its 10th anniversary, and I'm also designing Enyce, which I'm really excited about.

When will we see that?

For holiday season of next year.

What else is on the horizon?

I've got a [guest appearance on] "CSI: Miami," and I'm in the studio now working on an album that will be out at the end of the summer.

So, despite the economy, it sounds like 2009 is shaping up to be a pretty good year for you?

I'm a fighter. I'm going to look this recession right in the eye and I'm going to entertain people.

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