It smells a lot like an EdT version of Pinaud Clubman- the ultimate American 'barbershop" scent. Almost every old school barbershop in USA had the Clubman aftershave and talc.
If you're a wetshaver type and like Clubman, you're crazy not to own Canoe. It really lengthens and extends that distinctive Clubman scent. You'll feel fresh from the barber all day long. And it's super inexpensive.
Being a mature guy, I can feel more comfortable wearing this than many.
First of all, an admission. Canoe is right-now one of my all time favourites, both in the modern version, and the vintage which is richer, deeper and more complex; but both of them lack the fresh vitality of the reconstructed form held by the Osmothèque. It's like seeing a favourite oil painting after the restorers have stripped away the grime; the extra detail is exciting, and shocking in its clarity.
For a depression era perfume (1936) Canoe is curiously ambiguous; allegedly created with women in mind - which would have been a sensible thing to do in economically challenged and socially conservative times. But if it really was the case that Canoe started life as a feminine then Dana evidently had to rethink their marketing strategy because it started trending on the masculine market. That was possibly when the umlaut was dropped from the name and Canoë (can-o-way) became Canoe.
An aldehydic heliotrope fougère with pale tree fruits, Canoe also has a sweet powdery floral and hard woody and metal polish notes. And going by the Osmothèque sample, the original version had a strong bergamot and citrus tang in the head, and a lick of civet in the base.
I interpret the hard element in Canoe as having a domestic, household smell - rather like metal polish and waxed wood, which can also be found in other 1930's fougères such as Je Reviews and Blue Grass. This is what could be called a 'housewife' accord, a sort of 'feminine in pinafore' as opposed to the other floral accord - which we are all used to - the 'floral frock'. In Canoe the regular floral is augmented with a powdery element, softening it and giving it more contrast with the somewhat dour functionality of the (not only) aldehydic metal polish and the waxed woody notes.
The other, 'masculine' side of Canoe is the fougère, one of the few perfumery tropes normally reserved for men. The pronounced fougère character of Canoe, with its citrus & bergamot head, and lavender - geranium - coumarin body give it a defined structure, an architecture on which to place the two opposing feminine thematics mentioned above. The contrasts which inevitably arise from this create an interesting, and for the era, adventurous feel of gender ambiguity which I think is one of the strengths of Canoe, but it was also the cause of Dana's alleged difficulty with knowing who to market their product to.
The modern version smells quite different, neutered and less shapely, and it's also markedly old fashioned when compared to the Osmothèque re-creation. For whatever reason - maybe it's too different to today's perfumery, or too challenging perhaps; or just simply because of a debased formulation, Canoe is rather overlooked now-a-days.
There is one more point on formulation. To my knowledge (and thanks Bandit for the samples) Jean Carles created three very different versions of Shocking for Schiaparelli (1937) so it's possible that more than one version of Canoe was drawn up. Who knows?
Old fashioned - it may be, and largely ignored these days, but Canoe still has historical significance. As far as I can tell, the structure drew on three important strands of perfumery; the aldehydic, the floral and the (1930's subset of feminine) fougère, and in doing so it paved the way for what would become, some 50 years later, an undisputed phenomenon - the modern anisic fougère of Azzaro pour Homme and everything that flows from that.
Rating : between *** and ***** depending on the formulation.
Smells remarkably similar now to the scent of the late 1970s and 80s. Starts out smelling like Brut, which is bad. During the drydown the offending patchouli-moss-cedar mixture goes away, and this fragrance becomes a lovely, dignified stroll down a lane lined by lavender, geraniums, and heliotrope in full bloom.
My memory of Canoe isn't good after not having smelled it since the mid-80s. I liked it alright, but not nearly so well as my Uncle or my brother, who both liked it well enough to make it their signature scents.
I think of it as very dated at this point, but it's cheap now so you might give it a try as a budget cologne or try the aftershave.
Canoe is most certainly the apex babershop fougère. When people ask me how it smells, I tell them it's literally the smell of the powder that the old mom and pop barbershops put on your neck after a fresh cut. This review could end right here if I wanted to be that concise, but it does little justice to the juice and it's history if I do. Canoe started out as an export-only in the US market: troops fighting the Nazis brought it home from France and instantly loved it's light, musky, powdery ambiance, as it was nothing like the spicy and fatty scents they had to subsist with back in the US. The British loved this scent too, as their own leathery and herbal concoctions were not as affable to the nose, but it quickly became the standard for American men moreso than the UK, but with a dirty secret: It was originally meant to be a women's perfume. Those who know the tale of Shulton's Old Spice (1937), will know how this plays out too: Canoe was developed for Dana by Jean Carles and it was intended for the female audience, sold as such initially, but unlike Old Spice's original feminine packaging (when it was called Early American Old Spice), Canoe was never sold under a different name then rebranded for men, just adopted by them as they brought it over from France before and after WWII. Eventually sales figures convinced Dana that it fit men better and they began selling it in the trademark round bottle it's known for now. Oddly enough, Jean Carles would revisit his creation in 1955, tweaking it with heliotrope and additional florals for the ladies, creating "Ambush" perfume in the process, but the eventual promulgation of floral fougères for men and the discontinued fate of Ambush proved that acting on second thoughts doesn't always prove fruitful. Canoe scent eventually received global distribution and saw shipments to US stores sometime in the 50's, becoming a high-end alternative to the aforementioned Old Spice and other drugstore scents, while its oily-powdery vanillic smell became synonymous with masculinity as barbershops adopted Canoe's use in powder or aftershave form. The man who wore Canoe eau de cologne in those days was a learned, cultured, well-traveled and sophisticated man, of the upper-middle classes bare-minimum, with their sons more likely to be seen in Jack Purcell sneakers than the standard Converse fish heads of the day.
The rest of the tale is the usual mass market ubiquity and eventual downmarket dilution that happens to classic fragrances when they literally become too popular for their own good: they becomes too well-known and well-liked to retain their air of exclusivity and prestige, suffering sales drops after growth plateaus, then price cuts cheapening the formula to keep them competitive as they slide downmarket, which was something Canoe suffered long before IFRA standards started affecting fragrances. It didn't help that Dana also crashed and burned, being reborn as New Dana (and eventually Dana Classic Fragrances) after it was absorbed several times into different companies that ate each other along the way. Canoe suffered it's first major stylistic shift formulation in the 90's, when it stopped being made in France, not to meet regulations but to appeal to more modern tastes (it's right in the company's history if you look it up). Afterwards, reformulations were just to mostly meet regulations so there really is no huge difference in the scent of this juice from 1990's onward, just the stuff beforehand. Canoe from any decade opens mostly the same: there is a big rush of lavender, clary sage, and lemon, with a sharp and sticky green geranium that is only found in the barbershop scents of the 30's, 40's, and 50's; anyone who has smelled Avon for Men (1949) or Revlon That Man (1958) knows exactly what I'm talking about. It would be 40 years before geranium in any form close to this came back in vogue, but just for the 90's fresh fougères like Paco Rabanne XS Pour Homme (1993). The biggest difference in pre and post reorchestration is in the dry-down. Older batches with a white label and cap (made in France) will have much heavier heart notes and base notes like all the classic fougères did, offering a richer vanilla and musk experience bonded to real, unrestricted coumarin and pasty oakmoss, imparting a scary sort of "plastic Barbie doll" smell many antique fougères have at skin level past all the flowers and citrus. Newer stuff finds a shift towards stronger top notes that dominate the fragrance for longer (particularly the lavender), making it sharper, less rounded and more linear, which seems sensible if Canoe was being realigned to compete with then-modern fougères like Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989) or Curve for Men by Liz Claiborne (1996).
Both MK I and MK II Canoe have the same "freshly-slapped barbershop talc" smell, but MK I bottles plunge deeper into dark recesses of vanillic oakmoss and tonka, becoming something else entirely after the drydown, while MK II "pauses the transition" halfway and hangs there until you scrub it. IFRA now restricts moss, so the rich base notes could never be restored even if they wanted to, at least not without a surrogate note replacing the moss. It's honestly fine and still wearable without the heavier base, it just doesn't feel quite as quality or all-season, and shifts more towards a spring-summer scent for me, without the warmth to pierce colder fall or winter air. Nothing done to the formula changes the basic and timeless barbershop vibe no matter how new your bottle is, so if you don't like powdery barbershop tropes, this is the granddaddy of them all so I suggest steering clear. Niche barbershop scent makers looking to be the next Pinaud and court the moustache-wax-eating hipsters Penhaligon's usually attracts often look to Canoe as their source of inspiration, and I'm pretty sure "Dad's favorite barber" in business since the 50's still uses old stock of Canoe talc on his hot towels after giving a buzz cut. Before stuff like Canoe, fougères stood toe to toe with chypres in the male realm, as not everyone was happy with how aromatic or floral they were, but after Canoe shifted in an almost oriental sweetness that made them "safe", fougères dominated, crushing everything else strait on through until present day, despite evolving long past that now-archaic structure. Wearing this stuff in the 21st century no longer gives off the letterman jacket vibe of a mid-century ivy league alumni, and people will likely just think you enjoy smelling like your dad or buying your cologne from Walmart, but if you want to shut somebody up you can always tell them that at least your drugstore swill still comes in a glass bottle. Simply a must-experience classic, in any vintage.
A markedly pleasant and powdery affair that will offend very few with its mild barbershopish (lavender plus) manner. Somewhat sweet in a vanilla way but not cloying. Canoe is a very nice venerable creation that performs quite well on a small investment. It is old but does not small obsolete. A good barbershop never goes out of style, IMO. The only possible concern might be its high degree of exposure over many years.
Trying it for the first time now brought back an ancient memory of my first exposure to it in my youth. Amazing how strong those old scent memories are. An easy thumbs up for both my spouse and me.