Everything is made in New York City: their products are created in Brooklyn, distilled and made in the Bronx, and, most recently, sold in their flagship store in Manhattan. Established in 2007, they first rose to prominence through the sale of fragrances with evocative names such as Burning Barbershop (a spicy fragrance) Cowboy Grass (grassy) Bowmakers (woody) and Missisippi Medicine (smoky). In the early 2010s, they responded to the public’s appetite for a particular type of nostalgia that a luddite could describe as hipster. “At that time, there was a real interest in moving backwards, to 19th-century Americana,” David told us. “Companies had started doing things themselves rather than being owned by corporations, building from the ground up, so Burning Barbershop captured that. Also, men’s grooming began right at that time too.”
“We’re perfumer and designer-owned,” says D.S. & Durga co-founder David Seth Moltz. He is the nose, while Kavi, his business and life partner, is the designer, as she is an architect by trade. “Most companies hire creatives to do this, while we’re still mom and pop in that way.” They operate under the assumption that fragrance is an art form on a par with painting, literature, and poetry. “We feel like what we’re offering to the world is our artistic vision rather than just a commercial scent,” David said during a recent conversation.
They have since moved on from their exploration of Americana: among other areas and inspirations, they explored India, Kavi’s ancestral homeland, in fragrances such as Durga (a tuberose), D.S. (a floral combining gardenia, frangipani, saffron, and vetiver), and Radio Bombay (a woody, oriental fragrance); they paid tribute to coastal New England with Rose Atlantic, the Mediterranean idyll with Italian citrus.
That aside, their current magnum opus is a study on amber, which they started with the launch of two amber-based fragrances, but will develop into a full line: Amber Kiso, with Japanese influences, and Amber Teutonic, with more Mittel-European references. “What I want to do with perfume is being able to articulate what’s going on with perfumes: I educate the consumer,” explains David. “Sometimes, the concept of what amber is, is convoluted and misunderstood.” Amber is a tree resin that smells metallic or balsamic, and has been used generally for many years, and is associated with certain places that are associated with myth. “Amber is the mythology within the genre of perfume”. Amber Kiso is inspired by the forest of Kiso in Japan, whose resinous trees are used to build temples, while Amber Teutonic is tied to the Norse mythology cycle, through the lens of Gustav Mahler and the alpine landscape his music conjures. “I’d like to have a line of ambers and a line of ouds.” We won’t have to look too far into the future: their first oud fragrance will debut in September, while the pair already knows that the next amber fragrances will pay homage to India, the Middle East and South America.
They’ve also been dabbling in avant-garde fragrance concepts: Vio Volta is, basically, the scent of electricity in a bottle, while El Cosmico captures the air of the desert in Marfa, Texas (think Creosote shrubs). Their fragrance enhancer I Don’t Know What is their current best seller. It’s a transparent fragrance, which happens to be very much in vogue right now. The idea came out of necessity: David likes wearing oils (such as jasmine and patchouli) and they are muddy, and the fragrance enhancer can turn them into well-rounded perfumes. “It gives structure and form to natural materials, which are muddy.” You can also use it over regular perfumes, which will, in David’s words, turn “modern.” Should you wear it by itself, it would smell like feathers, cotton, and pillows.
Their brick-and-mortar store based in the Lower-Manhattan neighborhood Nolita is welcome addition to an area that already hosts high-end fragrance boutiques such as Diptyque, Le Labo, and Cire Trudon. Opened in early 2019, it has a pared-down aesthetic that could, at first, be described as brutalist: their front desk is a suspended slab of poured concrete, and their central island, where the products are displayed, is made of a series of light-gray bricks. Some neon signage reprises the esoteric-like logos of some of their perfumes, and they have a light wall consisting of several narrow, vertical panels, whose colors can be changed at leisure, depending on the story David and Kavi want to tell. “If we had an event dedicated, say, to the fragrance Cowboy Grass, we would want to convey it through scent, sound, and color,” said Kavi. “The vibe of the store is inspired by New York City, brutalist architecture, and grey materials. It’s a bit dark, it’s a bit edgy, it’s like a rock n’ roll New York aesthetic.”
Her eye also goes to details, with one particular one being the bottles. The D.S & Durga fragrances used to come in retro-inspired bottles adorned with a botanical-inspired illustration, which were reminiscent of medicinal bottles. However, three years ago, Kavi upgraded the packaging “We were self-funded up until very recently, so everything that we did was based on the business minimum,” she said. “We were never at a point where we could buy the bottles that we always wanted up until a few years ago, because we were a small team.” The result is a cylindrical bottle with the perfume name written in a sans-serif font and a sleek magnetic cap, a cross between a Byredo and a Frederic Malle bottle.
They express admiration towards the way Italians tend to navigate the fragrance market—they noticed that, as a population, they have a preference for citrusy and flowery scents, while Germans and Eastern Europeans prefer headier fragrances. They acknowledge that Italy is a tough market to conquer. “The way the fragrance market works in Italy, there are so many hyperlocal perfumeries,” David said. “It’s unlike anywhere else in the world, so you have many different agents, while in another country, you would start in a department store.” The pair hopes, in the future, to be able to host a shop within a shop.
Their ultimate unsung heroes are their candles, which, reprise, without overlapping, the themes covered in the perfumes, namely Americana, impression of Central and Northern Europe and an undying love of wooden notes. Their offers include Breakfast Leipzig, which combines gourmand and tobacco notes; Big Sur After Rain, which pairs the scent of rain with the aromatic smell of eucalyptus, and Portable Fireplace, which was designed “to make it smell like you have a fireplace, especially when you don’t have a fireplace.” For the future, they plan on releasing their own take on the comfortably spicy holiday candles, a tribute to a Christmas market with the threat of an all-consuming fire.