In an article titled, ” They Laughed when Diddy Launched A Fashion Line. Then He Changed the Industry,” writer Robin Givhan delves into the history of Sean John, Sean Combs’s multi-million dollar fashion venture, and the label’s rise to sartorial power.
Sean Combs. Diddy. Puff Daddy. Whatever you know him as (or the last name change he gave), chances are you know Sean “Diddy” Combs. A multi-million dollar mogul who has transcended the ranks of societal stigmas and created business ventures meant to stay, it’s no wonder Diddy is seen as a mystery to some who can’t quite figure out his success. His influence on fashion is largely overlooked, but his influence on the immersive worlds of fashion and hip-hop is vast.
Combs Enterprise consists of not only Bad Boy Entertainment (which has redefined the very definition of a music label by also immersing a vodka brand, cable network, marketing firm, a line of bottled water and a philanthropic foundation) but also one of Combs’ most lucrative ventures: Sean John.
Now, some may think that because you don’t see Sean John in every department store as you once did a few years ago, the brand has diminished in worth and in wealth. Capitalizing on the inclusion of the hip-hop industry with the investment of branding and clothing lines (like how rappers and hip-hop artists began using certain brands as part of their ‘image’), the company immediately distinguished itself amongst others by cultivating a brand aesthetic and partnering with those that could easily push it.
Becoming the first African-American to win the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award in 2004, Diddy quickly proved that hip-hop could be high-fashion and break down the socio-economic barriers that had long existed around the idea of what was ‘fashionable’.
The growing emergence of the Sean John brand other clothing companies that had tried to reflect a hip-hop, urbanite, black aesthetic was simply one of luxuriousness. Attaching the name and design to an almost inclusive brand set the venture apart as Sean John escalated amongst fashion and editorial circles for its streetwear-meets-boardroom demeanor. Soon, Sean John would be amongst the brands of Rick Owens and Tommy Hilfiger, with the average, working-class citizen pushing to possess a sense of the runway in their own closet for a fraction of the cost.
“When I think about the whole journey, it truly was a fashion revolution from how things were then and to see the impact we had on style,” Combs says. “Hip-hop fashion is now dominant.”
“I got a message from Kanye West the other day: ‘Look, you’re all over my mood board!’ When I’d do a collection, I’d do a mood board and put everyone who inspired me on my board” — Ralph Lauren and Tom Ford’s Gucci, in particular, he says. “And now I’m on other people’s mood board. It’s humbling.”
Now sold exclusively through Macy’s and carried in 400 of the chain’s 600 stores, Sean John currently racks in more than $400 million in annual sales. The brand’s impact on the oncoming generations can still be seen from the high streets of Paris to the stylish streets of Harlem. Hoodies, track pants, luxury overalls, oversized fur-trimmed parkas…Sean John has not only kept the exclusive 90s hip-hop culture encapsulated within the clothes it produces, but it sets itself as a standard against other fashion powerhouses such as Vetements, Balenciaga, and other street-wear inspired collections.
Crafting this idea of wealth and power around the brand by simultaneously making his clothing accessible yet high-marked by the blessings of Vogue’s Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, Combs removed the sense of monotony in men’s clothing and introduced excitement and spunk to its revamp.
Although Combs didn’t go to design school, he immersed himself in the acquisition of fashion knowledge by finding mentors. “Tommy Hilfiger was my mentor coming up. He gave me all the information I needed,” says Combs, who once walked in a Hilfiger show. “Tommy Hilfiger is one of the biggest supporters of diversity. He was the first to embrace it and not shy away from that consumer.”
Even though the million-dollar runway shows ended in 2008 and the ‘look’ of Sean John has altered itself over the years, you’ll find its $100 linen bomber jackets, $80 jogging pants and $160 velour tracksuits hang alongside Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors. You’ll find celebrity stars like Rihanna rocking the threads on a daily basis, and while it started out as a brand with a mostly African-American consumer, the brand has diversified itself extensively to be a global powerhouse and example of the true magnitude of fashion.
No longer exclusively urban or even about Combs, the legacy of Sean John is fostering new communities of growth in the world of fashion designers and commercial success for men of all backgrounds.
Read Robin Givhan’s take in the Washington Post.