Discount Diamonds: Dana Canoe- The First Sport Fragrance?

The more I learn about the history of some of the legacy scents the more I enjoy doing what I do. I’ve been looking at the fragrance shelf at my local drugstore for topics for this column. When I saw the box for Canoe Dana, I thought of my childhood in the 1960’s and 70’s. During that time Canoe was one of the staple perfumes worn by men. When I started digging into the history, I learned it was originally marketed for women.

Canoe was created in 1936 by perfumer Jean Carles. The desire was for a fresher counterpart to Dana Tabu. I couldn’t quite pin it down but sometime over the next 25 years Canoe became a man’s fragrance. By that point the fresh fougere had changed its target audience. From a current perspective it is hard to have seen a fragrance with such a barbershop fougere style being marketed to anyone but the guys.

As I was re-visiting it for this review, I was surprised at how relevant is still feels. It reminds me of a lot of other choices from more recent brands, all of them with “sport” in the name. It made me think that if Canoe wasn’t the first sport fragrance it is close.

When thinking about haw M. Carles would approach a fresher alternative to Tabu It isn’t hard to imagine. Bright citrus, rugged lavender, clean cedar, herbal clary sage and some fresh heliotrope. That’s the backbone upon which this scent was built.

It opens with tart lemon matched to the slightly powdery lavender. This is the only place where I kind of see the idea of a feminine. Most other masculine perfumes of this time used a more herbal lavender. The powdery part is more present. It only lasts for a short time as clary sage extracts that herbal quality of lavender. The clean pencil shavings scent of cedar comes next along with a spicy geranium enhanced with clove. Heliotrope adds floral lift through this early development.

The biggest difference I noticed with the three versions I had came in the base accord. My circa 1970 bottle has the softness of oakmoss with musk to form a pseudo-chypre foundation. As this was reformulated through the 90’s and further that base accord changed its focus to vanilla. In my bottle from around 2000-ish there is still a hint of musk and moss but not much. By the bottle I bought a month ago even that hint is gone it is all vanilla over the final stages.

Canoe (2021) has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

The variation in the base does not change the appeal of Canoe, it alters it. It seems as if perfumer David Apel was asked to oversee the reformulation. I like the choices he made because it doesn’t overwhelmingly change what Canoe stands for. Even now perhaps the first sports fragrance.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I own.

Mark Behnke