Standing on the back terrace of their showroom/office space in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, David Moltz and his wife, Kavi—the duo behind D.S. & Durga—are excitedly showing off the vibrantly blooming garden they planted themselves. David has unfeigned enthusiasm and curiousity as he experiences the smell of each flower. “When this gardenia bloomed, I really wanted to take advantage of having a real gardenia in my hand so I could nail exactly what this particular gardenia smells like,” he says. “If I ever make a gardenia-based fragrance, this would be the heart of it, but I’d build it out and make it fresher, more wet, more wearable as a perfume.”
Back inside minutes later, we’re discussing early childhood memories associated with smell. “I grew up traveling to India, and my strongest scent memories are from there—especially the flowers. Because of that, I have specific ideas of how each flower should smell—the best rose, the best jasmine, the best marigold,” Kavi explains as David thumbs through the hundreds of oils and extracts they have on hand to find a match for marigold.
“I grew up by the ocean in Massechusettes, and by 2PM each day, my town always smelled like salty sea air and the rosa rugosa that’s all over the beach there,” recalls David of his own early memories. “I’ve catalogued every scent throughout my life, and so have you.” It’s this emphasis on experience—combined with an intense, academic interest on process—that makes D.S. & Durga special.
The couple started the brand out of their Brooklyn (at that time Bushwick) apartment in 2007. They never intended to actually launch a brand, but kept diving deeper and deeper into their joint passion for creating fragrance. “We bought antique books on how to make beauty products and perfumes using old methods,” says Kavi. “We were really hands-on, just doing things ourselves. We bought a distiller, and at the time David was working at a raw vegan restaurant. We would take citrus peels from there and distill our own citrus oils.”
“Keep in mind this was before social media!” laughs David. “It was actually kind of trendy at the time to be creating in this way. I made the first real fragrances in 2007, and by 2008, we had little bottles for sale in some stores.” From there, the brand continued to grow organically, and eventually a huge order propelled them to the next level, meaning they were both able to quit their day jobs—Kavi as an architect and David a musician. “We knew we wanted to be sitting in the luxury realm. Barneys was always our goal,” says Kavi. “We’ve been about the same thing from the start, but it’s getting the look and feel right that took a long time, since we are entirely in-house and independent. Now, we are 100% confident, down to the packaging,” adds David.
Since day one, they can both agree that they’ve been about creating a high-quality product that offers a unique and immersive experience. “The language of aromatics is no different than a painting. You look at a painting of a mountain sunset and see the colors and have no problem with suspension of disbelief,” explains David. “Somehow, people don’t trust fragrance in the same way, but I can certainly create something that smells like the shrubs on a mountain and the transition to higher elevation where it’s less pine and fir. I can make a mountain, a sky, a cloud—all of it—in fragrance.”
There’s something almost poetic about the way David discusses fragrances, often using the language of music or color to complete a thought. “I love linking together various elements to create these wearable narratives. Perfume is armchair travel—an immersive story. Our influence isn’t as much in the perfume world. It’s literature, music, and making realistic depictions.” After spending a few hours with David and Kavi, including time spent chatting through the unique narrative of each fragrance and the dozens of fascinating tangents that came along with each description, we’re certain their story is one we want to keep up with.