I often see people judging a fragrance solely on the criterion whether it possesses "a certain wow-factor" or not. While the definition of such is still somewhat elusive to me, I had accepted it without much thought when I began on my review-reading journey.
Some will nonetheless grant a neutral rating after admitting the fragrance is nothing 'unique', whereas others dismiss it as something completely worthless, giving it a negative rating.
As reviews themselves are intrinsically and inevitably of subjective nature, I might as well leave it be. And yet, I sometimes can't help asking myself if, and since when, the fragrance world and its perfumers had signed a silent contract to, if ever, only create fragrances with "wow-factors". And if they do not meet this obligation, their creations seem doomed for ill-favoured reception, even condemnation.
Of course, I do understand when the 'consumer' (audience), who was charged with a very high price, in exchange regards this as a(n) (unspoken) promise of the 'performer'-part to deliver "something really astonishing, knocking off one's socks", since the consumer wishes to emotionally and rationally justify the expense. However, it would be questionable whether the majority of perfume houses are really promising such "one-of-a-kind, magical, life-changing, eye-opening moments" besides their standard copywriting.* They certainly imply the 'quality' being relative to the asked price, where the measure for a fragrance's "quality" will be subject of individual interpretation. It still remains a fact that In most cases, with exception of some houses, the perfumers will not be the ones granted with maximum power over, nor maximum profit from, the price set on their creation.
With that being said, what are these "wow-factors" exactly, a novel uniqueness which had never existed under the sun (or rather, one's nose had never met yet)? Something special that will grab the attention of the whole room? As a matter of principle, a fragrance loses its 'uniqueness' once its success prompts many 'follower' products, and in the worst case it could actually be compared and subordinated to exactly its own non-related offsprings probably in the 3rd generation, by someone (perhaps) oblivious to the historical order, and be called "Nothing unique, not the best of its kind, there are much better ones around". Someone will always be the pioneer, serve as the founding stone.
I had never used the term "wow-factor" for anything myself, but when I think of other fields like literature, music or cinema, there will be those that are well-made and enjoyable entertainment or offer food for thought, and then those which touch me deeply in a personal way. I am sure it's the same with fragrances, despite the limited possibility of fragrances being 'intellectually' stimulating. While music could well be the latter, fragrances seem to be much closer to one's instincts and primal reactions, like the sense of taste.
So, considering the above, are "wow-factors" something that touches the person on a deeply emotional level? Or rather something like the newest blockbuster using the latest CGI? Something that provides the feeling of a 'kick'? An olfactory climax? Or just something that would set the wearer apart from "the rest of the crowd"?
I could imagine and understand (almost) all of the above. As for the last, it is interesting to observe that many people, while insisting to smell 'unique' and, supposedly, take care to show themselves in every other facet as 'unique'/'outstanding' to the world, would still need the feeling of acceptance and security of a larger group. Perhaps - since I am ignorant in this field, I can only speculate - this is the extension of adolescence where many strive to be 'different' by identifying with and simulating their chosen role models. I find that, in order to aim for 'uniqueness', one needs to define and set a certain reference frame to distance oneself from, and this itself is an act showing a present dependence. 'Uniqueness' within the visible bounds of safety.
Lastly, without meaning offense, I rather think that the urge/wish/need to stand out from the crowd with every means possible, even with a fragrance, seems rather based on a competitive mindset focusing on "me vs. the rest of the crowd (rivals?)", a character trait more pronounced in some persons than in other. Otherwise, we ourselves are certainly not full of "wow-factors" all the time and do not have to be, and still remain unique animals, each on our own (even in our natural smell.)
*I will exclude those that justify the high cost with not only the quality of ingredients, but with the explicit promise that the fragrance will have 'mystical' effects on the wearer and the surroundings.