How this viral fragrance-dupes brand from Target took over PerfumeTok

 April 07, 2024

How this viral fragrance-dupes brand from Target took over PerfumeTok

Brand incubator Maesa created the year-old Fine’ry line of designer perfume dupes, and has been churning out the hit scents ever since.

BY Yasmin Gagne

The TikToker known as Laraisabellema wants to show her viewers how to smell like pearls, a woman walking into the ocean, seashells, a mermaid. After shuffling through a series of evocative images on TikTok, she reveals her perfume recommendations—Diptyque Do Son and Clean Reserve Rain, among them—and lists their top notes.

The video, which has nearly 350,000 views, is typical of its genre. On PerfumeTok, fragrance enthusiasts share descriptions, recommendations, and tips for how to wear fragrances. And while this corner of social media may be confusing—unlike makeup, skincare, or fashion, you can’t “see” really what someone is wearing when they spritz it on—it is influential. More consumers are purchasing fragrance: The global perfume market is expected to grow from $48.05 billion in 2023 to $69.25 billion by 2030, and that doesn’t include the body sprays and scented skincare that are proliferating on social media from the likes of Sol de Janeiro.

How this viral fragrance-dupes brand from Target took over PerfumeTok |
The Mystic Fig’ures scent from Fine’ry [Photo: Target]

As with other categories, like beauty and skincare, perfume TikTokers also advise viewers on lower-cost dupes for their favorite perfumes. One Target-exclusive brand, Fine’ry (a portmanteau of fine fragrance and perfumery) seems to be making many of them.

The brand’s hashtag, #FineryPerfume has been used more than 15 million times. Its scents include the New Rouge (similar to Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540), Not Another Cherry (Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry), Before The Rainbow (Jo Malone’s Wood Sage & Sea Salt), Jungle Santal (Le Labo Santal 33), and Flowerbed (Chanel Chance Eau Tendre). And unlike the high-end perfumes they imitate, Fine’ry products won’t break the bank. A two-ounce bottle costs $29.99. Scents can also come in the form of body mists and fragrance sprays, which are $15 each for five ounces.

Fine’ry, which launched in March 2023, is owned and operated by 25-year-old brand incubator Maesa, which decidedly does not use the term “dupes” to describe its products. “The way Fine’ry thinks about finding new fragrances and how we develop our olfactive strategy is we look at trends, and we look at what’s happening in the world of fragrance,” says Dana Steinfeld, senior vice president of brand incubation and product innovation at Maesa. Dupes are “not part of our brand disposition,” she says.

But it’s hard to ignore similarities in both the scent and names of the products, which have made the line a hit on dupe TikTok, where perfumetokers talk about dupes for their favorite high-end perfumes.

Maesa started as a contract manufacturer for clients including Zara and H&M before becoming the incubator behind brands including Kristin Ess Hair, Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty, Ashley Tisdale’s Being Frenshe, and Dollar General’s home-fragrance brand Koze Place. After private equity group Bain Capital acquired a majority stake in the company in 2019, Maesa’s revenue doubled from 2020 to 2023, growing roughly 25% year-over-year for three years.

Before launching a brand, Maesa looks at prestige and mass retail trends to identify underserved customers. Then it looks for a mass retailer, like Target, Dollar General, or Walmart, to house the brand. Because the company is vertically integrated—all formulating, manufacturing, and marketing are done in-house—Maesa can act on its insights quickly and launch a new brand in just 8 to 12 months. With Fine’ry, executives saw an opportunity to serve customers who might be interested in luxury scents at a lower price point.

“Interest in fragrance has gone up in every category,” says Steinfeld. “We see fragrance as being a primary driver in everything from haircare to body care to home care. Looking at the conversations on social and influencers on TikTok, people were becoming aware of all of these niche [scent] brands, like Byredo or Le Labo.” Maesa saw an opportunity to create more accessibly priced scents similar to those of cult brands. Indeed, Fine’ry’s colorful bottles are minimally branded and wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf next to one from Le Labo. 

How this viral fragrance-dupes brand from Target took over PerfumeTok |
Born to Empress from Fine’ry [Photo: Target]

Sometimes, the company builds brands around celebrities, like Drew Barrymore; other times, it launches a brand, like Fine’ry, on its own. Founder relationships have not always gone well: In November 2022, celebrity hairstylist Kristin Ess sued the company to reclaim rights to her haircare brand and get released from “unreasonable restraints” on her business. She has since come to an amicable resolution with the conglomerate. In the lawsuit, Ess’s team stated that her company, which launched in 2017, was on track to generate $250 million in sales in 2022. The suit also claimed that her brand represented more than half of Maesa’s total revenue at the time.

Though Maesa declines to offer any information about Fine’ry’s revenue or margins, the brand is stocked in every Target, and perfume is a lucrative business. Markups on prestige fragrances can be up to 90%, so selling similar scents at a lower price point can still yield a healthy margin. In part driven by social media, Maesa says that customers are constantly looking for new products or scents. In February, the brand launched seven new ones, and Oshiya Savur, chief brand officer at Maesa, says the Fine’ry team can pivot quickly to create fragrances in response to trends they are noticing. 

And while perfume ads have traditionally relied on celebrity spokespeople and extravagant products (who could forget the $33 million short film Baz Luhrmann directed starring Nicole Kidman to sell the iconic Chanel No. 5), the way influencers talk about perfume is more accessible. Fine’ry has taken notice. Fragrances from the brand have straightforward descriptions: The company uses phrases like “smells like” as well as colors to communicate the scent. 

Ultimately, Fine’ry’s success comes down to timing. The company was able to ride the wave of social media popularity as it grew and instantly go viral upon launch. As Steinfeld says, “We like to say that we launch unicorns: right time, right place, right social moment, right retailer. Fine’ry really was that.”

Fast Company