BY JAMES J. SPINA
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JAMES PATRICK COOPER
Sean “Diddy” Combs?
Nope. In person, in conversation and (nearly boyishly happy) in his new sunglasses from the newly released Sean John Eyewear and Sunglass Collection from Marchon Eyewear, Sean Combs is an absolute gentleman. The “mean spirited” reference is something blotting the reams of stories tracking Combs in both his personal and professional life by a legion of journalistic hacks seemingly intent on filling in the chips on their shoulders with negative “puff” pieces.
Minutes after I heard I was going to have a chance to interview Combs in regard to the debut of his eyewear collection, and for the months until our meeting, I subjected myself to misinformation about the man, his music and his missive to build a valuable corral of lifestyle branded products. That read-search was a waste of time as it so often is when trying to come to terms with the true personal celebration of a celebrity.
The REAL pulse is how that celebrity is perceived by the public. And that relationship of a fan to a celebrity (or star or artist) is more complex then you might think. When a fan buys a CD or a fragrance or clothing or (more specific to our purposes here) sunglasses they are not usually barging into that celeb’s life. They are actually “inviting” the star into THEIR lives. That simple-but-elusive relationship is the key to what is becoming known as “Living Branding.” So ditch all that petty press yelping. Combs knows his fans and is ready to accept their invitation to party. “I always try hard to observe what’s happening and be patient enough to make my vision come to life by taking my time and choosing the perfect moment,” says Combs. “You need to cater to the lifestyle you are trying to create for and sometimes you do that by example as a leader and other times you follow the principles of your audience.”
That astute reasoning has played out in Comb’s own music, in his producing the music of others, in the creation of the growing variety of highly successful products carrying the Sean John imprint and in the choice he made when partnering with Marchon for branded eyewear. “I know from shades. I’ve loved wearing them my whole life. Some people love to go shoe shopping. I always loved shade shopping. But when it came to the whole optical picture I needed someone to keep me from going all over the place, letting me break some rules but also making sure that my eyewear was a great representation of what I am and what I like.”
Based on impressions from both Combs and Marchon’s Al Berg, it sounds like that meeting was made via search-and-create missions by BOTH parties. “I took my daughter to a Z100 Zootopia concert at the Meadowlands a few years ago and Puff Daddy was one of the performers,” recalls Berg. “I’m not up on that music scene but he was REALLY good, very engaging, almost hypnotically good.” That impression grew as Berg observed the achievements of Sean John in branded products. For both, the working alliance has been smooth, in fact flawless and trusted in a way not usually encountered in such collaborations.
Berg is seated to my right as I’m interviewing Combs and in near harmony they both say they were “having fun” developing the collection. Combs eyes Berg directly as he says, “Al and his company knew what was going on with me and what I wanted to project. They taught me about being understated with sunglass logos and picked up on how in music and videos and in my life a careful representation is to make sure my message isn’t just all over the place.”
The eyewear is exactly there, at once confident yet understated, equally face-enhancing on men and women with a wide demographic range by virtue of wearability and sophistication. “There are styles that made a big statement and others that go more sophisticated,” notes Combs. “I mean isn’t that what life’s about? Sometimes it’s the red carpet and sometimes it’s just a quiet date with a young lady.” He says that, stares right at me and suddenly I’m searching for a pair of Sean John shades, a red carpet and… that young lady called my wife.
Seems I’m not the only one impressed with the potential of Sean John’s o-p-t-i-ca- l deal. Berg receives an email on his Blackberry while we’re chatting a few weeks after the interview at the launch party for the collection:
“Today I had the opportunity to view and buy 24 pieces from the Sean John collection. It’s been a very long time since I’ve actually been this excited about any new lines, but this particular collection is awesome. The color palettes for the frames are deep and no weak colors exist in any of the models. Temple treatments are second to none. The shapes are very current and I really liked the metal/plastic combinations for the men’s models.
What really impresses me is that it is the strongest initial launch I’ve ever seen and you know how many years I’ve been dispensing. I believe this line will sell itself and it’s just a bonus to have a strong name attached to the line. I have contacted our administration office hoping to get the collection placed in our other offices. I feel fortunate to have been the first account to purchase from this line and know that we will do extremely well with it. Just passing along my opinion.”
That’s how Kelly Riel, an office manager for Family Vision Care in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, sees it, Mr. Combs. Sounds like those “fan” invites are in the mail and ready to “face” Puff’s eye-tunes.