Armani Code Ultimate (Giorgio Armani)

The German brand, Joop!, is known for infusing its masculine range with a very synthetic heliotrope note that is equal parts rich and fresh, like having an over-ripe bouquet shoved in your face. It's hard to manage in Joop! Homme, somewhat easier to use in Joop! Homme Wild, and given true artistic treatment in Joop! Jump (my favorite Joop! frag). It's a very late eighties and nineties style, that tonka-heavy breeze of plastic-flower sweetness, something that filled the halls of my high school and wafted off every girl and guy at my prom. Hindsight is twenty twenty: had I known then what I know now, I might've enjoyed myself more. I always took the nineties to be a wussy follow-up to the eighties, a decade of neutered rock (Goo Goo Dolls, Collective Soul), piss-poor pop (Puff Daddy, Madonna's ill-advised comeback), and unforgivably stupid styles (oversized flannels, baggy jeans, the Ceasar haircut).

Turns out the decade was actually better than I gave it credit for. As I reference the landmark scents of the decade, I find that it was another powerhouse era, only this time the fragrances were more overtly synthetic, less representative of anything in nature, disarmingly affable, and very, very sweet. It was a time where sweet was done LOUD. Le Male, A*Men, and for the Joop! fans, Joop! Homme (original), along with my beloved Tommy, these are just a few of the trendsetters of the era, and all shared a common trait - sweetness. For some reason Armani figured men hadn't had enough sugar, and released the first Code in 2004, by which time I'd become a disciple of Allure Homme. I never wore Code, but I remember smelling it here and there, in malls, perhaps on the occasional bloke, and it reminded me of the nineties. It was cut from that cloth, a sweet, powdery, friendly scent with good sillage, and a remarkable tendency to remain in the room several minutes after its wearer had left.

Armani Code Ultimate is merely Code with a massive heliotrope note, and a heavier, tonka-rich amber. The heliotrope is sweet, synthetic, in your face, but there are some crisp fougère elements in the mix as well, with a brusque lavender on top, and a subtler woody amber lurking under the sweetness. As a whole, the fragrance resembles Joop! Jump the closest, which by a few degrees of separation makes it somewhat similar to Allure Homme, though I'd rather wear Jump and Allure than Code. Armani's take on this genre is a little too faceless and "safe," and feels rather tired. It's a faded rerun of sweet fougèrientals, and many of the originals were better. Even the original Code handles powdery amber in a more full-throated, unconventional manner. Comparatives like Jump and Allure Homme have much more memorable accords also, like the coriander/vodka notes in the former, and the labdanum/rosewood bit in the latter.

Despite my personal preference, I recommend Code Ultimate as a middle-shelf, everyday work scent for the young man (or woman) who admired its more daring nineties progenitors, but never found one tame enough to wear. You'll certainly smell good wearing this. Just don't expect to smell exciting, or original.

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