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ANNALS OF SELF-INVENTION

Umbrellas? Puffy's on his own now

June 20, 2004|Carolyn Patricia Scott

A 9-to-5 job just wasn't in the cards for Fonzworth Bentley, a self-professed Southern gentleman who set his eyes on the entertainment industry armed only with imagination and a bachelor's degree. As Bentley was neither an entertainer nor an athlete, his alter ego, Derek Watkins, came up with an alternate strategy -- he'd turn himself into a character.

Bentley decided that New York and, most specifically, fashion designer Ralph Lauren's flagship store would be the perfect launching pad for an ambitious liberal arts major with a sense of style. That position led to others, including the position of host at one of New York City's hottest restaurants, where he met Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean "Puffy" Combs and others. It was rap impresario Combs who offered Bentley his next "leg-up," packing the entertainer's bags for a tour.

The "Puffy" posting clicked, and from spring 2001 through summer 2002, Bentley served as his highly visible personal assistant -- a sort of valet. The hip-hop crowd nicknamed Bentley P.U.H. (Puffy's Umbrella Holder), and appearances in the OutKast music videos for "Roses" and "The Way You Move" widened his rep. But when a local newspaper published a picture of Bentley holding an umbrella over his employer, referring to him in print as a "man servant," he decided to move on.

Bentley kept his umbrella and his contacts, though, and is launching his own line, the J. Bentley umbrellas, this fall. He's modeled for Tommy Hilfiger, has been named the Couvoisier VSOP spokesman, and there's talk of an MTV reality show with a home makeover theme that might feature him.

Asked to offer up his formula for success, Bentley offers only one -- a cocktail recipe. And true to form for this master of branding, it features his sponsor, Courvoisier.

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