Never be one-note, because life's anything but monotonous. And D.S. & Durga advocates details. The New York-based cult fragrance brand imbues then with scented stories of cowboys, open terrain, Russian novel characters, and folk songs. Intrigued?
Founded by David and Kavi Moltz, the entrepreneurial couple left their previous professions as a musician and architect respectively to be pioneers in the DIY Brooklyn movement. Gutsy move, but it paid off handsomely.
While David exclusively conceives and constructs D.S. & Durga's creations through disciplined self-taught in perfumery which includes translating musical and literary spaces into scent, Kavi tapped into her architecture expertise like emphasising on form and function to their scents' hand-stamped boxes packed in their Bushwick apartment. Attention to detail and the importance of human hands are still vital to the brand's DNA.
Proudly made in the Big Apple, with fragrances formulated in Brooklyn and bottles filled in the Bronx, D.S. & Durga's innovative scented tales will truly arouse curiosity.
We caught up with Kavi who discerns the cult appeal and uncommon fragrance names of D.S. & Durga.
ESQ: How do you describe D.S. & Durga's fragrances?
Kavi Moltz: We'd say 'perfume is armchair travel'. So, our philosophy is that fragrance exists on the same level akin to other art like painting or music. Each scent we have is rather complex and there's a story behind each one. Thus, creating a little world around.
ESQ: What made you explore fragrance creation from architecture and leverage your academic experience on D.S. & Durga?
Kavi Moltz: I studied architecture so this is a little bit out of my expertise but we both feel we're the type of creatives that can pretty much challenge design.
David [Seth] started out as a musician and he likens that creating fragrances. There's a lot of notes or accords, so it's a symphony together. It's kind of like creating a song in scent, which is a really good way to describe when making a fragrance.
For me, it's about design and packaging. I was able to distil my architectural aesthetic values into a package, which was a lot more gratifying than architecture because in the architecture field, things take so long and there are so many different people involved, like developers and architects, engineers, clients.
You make a product, put it on the shelf, and you sell it. That's it. The retail cycle of it is nice and simple. So I like that part of it.
ESQ: Tell us more about ‘Durga’ in D.S. & Durga?
Kavi Moltz: 'D.S.' stands for David Seth, who is my partner and he is the perfumer of D.S. and Durga. He's a self-taught perfumer who makes all the formulas.
And then 'Durga' is me, Kavi. It's a nickname that he gave from a long time ago. He's also my husband. While I do all the branding, packaging, and designs for the fragrances, he formulates all the perfumes.
ESQ: Name a D.S. & Durga product that you can’t live without. Why?
Kavi Moltz: Typically, we wear many of our new scents that are in development. Or at least David does that because he's always having to test. He arrives at the studio to spray everyone with his new prototype scent.
I wear 'Radio Bombay' and 'I Don't Know What' often. What I like about 'Radio Bombay' is that when I'm not in the mood for anything, I turn to that because it exudes a soft, radiant scent.
The idea behind this scent is that there's a sandalwood radio-like amplifier found in a basement at Bombay with copper tubes. And after turning it on, the copper tubes warm up and heats the sandalwood which gives out a warm, radiant woody copper scent. It's like a metallic Sandalwood scent. That's the story behind Radio Bombay.
For 'I Don't Know What. it's not only a fragrance enhancer but also a fragrance itself which can be layered with other fragrances or oils like vetiver, sandalwood, and patchouli oil. But it also can be worn by itself which is how most people would wear, and currently one of our best-selling fragrances.
It's similar to the bones of a fragrance and contains 'iso e super', which is a perfume ingredient that people are excited about as it's a breakthrough agent.
ESQ: How do you decide on the unique names of your fragrances?
Kavi Moltz: Some of the names are based on the ingredients used for creating the fragrances. Like coriander or Italian citrus that describes what you're going to smell.
But then some of them are fanciful such as 'Mississippi Medicine', which is evocative and kind of makes you wonder what's used. Also like 'Cowboy Grass' and 'Debaser', you don't really know what to expect.
We like the idea of having a memorable little catchphrase that makes you want to know more about it and hear its story. 'Mississippi Medicine' is David imagining about an ancient Native American tribe and what their rituals might have smelled based on components that were available. So, it smelled like smoky and piney incense-y.
While 'Cowboy Grass' evokes the wild wild west as it contains sagebrush and vetiver. But some are more evocative than what you thought might smell.
But then 'Burning Barbershop' is one of few scents that people buy just because of its name. 'Burning Barbershop' describes a barbershop in upstate New York that was caught up in flames and stocked experimental tonics such as lime and rose. After the flames died, they found a bottle in its aftermath.
So, it's like a classic barbershop scent—which smells like vanilla and lavender— and elements used in grooming products. Then accented with a little bit of smoke. It's both transformative and transportive. That's what we're going for—fresh like vetiver and sage with hints of herbal notes.
ESQ: What do you think about scents as an ‘invisible’ accessory for a form of self-expression?
Kavi Moltz: People use scents in different ways. There are those who use it as an accessory and swap them like variating shoes or changing handbags. It's supposed to suit your mood that particular day. I definitely fall more into this camp, and I think D.S. & Durga belongs in this camp too.
There are others who think of having a signature fragrance and want to be like known for their smell, which is only wearing this one scent and want it to be like their business card or when walking into a room and every notice this presence because of that smell.
We feel that there are too many beautiful fragrances out there to limit yourself to only one, but it's definitely also a form of self-expression, especially with niche fragrance.
I feel that it's a way to take pride and finding something new that not everyone else is wearing. This reflects self-discovery and the interest in finding something independent that's off the beaten path. It's very much what we're about, to find something that is unique.
ESQ: Tell us more about creating bespoke hotel amenities for Thompson Hotels Group and how it came about.
Kavi Moltz: The scent at Thompson Hotels is 'Bowmakers'. They discovered and loved it. That's a scent that belongs to a category which translates themselves well to other applications like lotion or a wash. Considerations such as gender-neutral and being not extremely floral or extremely spicy make this pleasant woody scented 'Bowmakers' do well.
We launched both body lotions and body wash mostly due to the success of a programme at the Thompson hotels which gotten positive feedback from it. Thus, leading people to ask us where they could buy it. One of them is, of course, 'Bowmakers' scented.
ESQ: What is the most unexpected decision made when conceptualising a scent?
Kavi Moltz: The most unexpected thing is the inspiration for these fragrances can come from really mundane or insignificant things. For example, 'Filmmakers' is inspired by the interiors of a violin shop in the American North East during the 1800s. Something so specific that was imagined, but also simple.
There's a grand story of classical music originating in that area. America is starting to make their own instruments, which evoked that scent. It's a simple idea. We have customers who played the violin, smelled that, and commented the scent reminds them of a particular kind of wood used.
It's always unexpected when you notice which scents resonate with different groups of people. You never know. We didn't expect 'I Don't Know What' would end up a big success. And it really is.
The unexpected inspiration, I would say, is the most unexpected thing like finding inspiration and small, little moments and making a world out of them.
ESQ: Is there a brand that you wish to collaborate with?
Kavi Moltz: We do collaborations very selectively and will be doing our second collaboration with Levi's.[Levi's] bought a jacket at auction that belonged to Einstein and it was his leather jacket which he wore at Princeton in New Jersey. When they bought the jacket, it smelled like pipe tobacco. So, they wanted to recreate the jacket to sell and wanted us to replicate the scent which smelled like his pipe tobacco.
It's a little leather and pipe tobacco. When you purchase this particular Levi's vintage jacket, it comes with this special limited-edition vial of our perfume that's specially made for Levi's. They're doing another one this year where they reimagine a d made the jacket black. We'll then reimagine the scent as a darker version of the former scent.
ESQ: If you could create a scent for a tropical city like Singapore, how would it be like?
Kavi Moltz: David would probably research the history of Singapore as the city has such a rich and layered past, so many different racial groups involved in shaping what it is now. He would refer to the yesteryears like the British colonisation and spice trade.
Filtering all those layers to find something tropical-like. Perhaps jasmine, ginger, frangipani but he would also try to layer these ingredients with the country's history. So, its story might revolve around Raffles or other narratives to his teeth into and combine that with those ingredients.