The Perfumers Behind DS & Durga on the Alchemy of Scent


Scent memory is a concept that gets thrown around a lot: a candle that smells like your childhood best friend’s house or a bakery that transports you to a Sunday morning in Paris. It’s not very often that a scent takes you somewhere you’ve never been, but D.S. & Durga, a highly creative perfumery, tends to do just that. David and Kavi Moltz, the husband and wife team behind the Brooklyn-based brand, are known for their thoughtful and unique scents, which emanate from sleek bottles of eau de parfum, rose-hued candles, body care products and even chic car air freshener cards. Their latest, Black Magenta, is a juicy, musky fragrance that pairs well with loud music and strobe lights. W sat down with David and Kavi to learn more about their process, routine, and how they come up with those fabulous names.

Most people have one, maybe two fragrances on their vanity. You both have so many at your disposal; how do you pick your scent?

Kavi: Very different answers for both of us. I wear Durga all the time, it’s my scent when I’m going out. But our new fragrance, Black Magenta, is the other one I’ve started wearing. I love all our fragrances, but I’ve just gotten very addicted to wearing Durga and this new one. David will wear a million things. He’s not loyal to anything.

David: Well, I’m always trying new things. But, there are things in our line that are so me. I love St. Vetyver, D.S., and Rose Atlantic. I also like old-fashioned, old-man-smelling things like our Carlyle Fragrance, 40 Million Year Old Amber, and Roman Ruin Cypress. And I’m always testing and wearing things that will come out next year to get to know them.

Can you walk me through the process of creating one of your perfumes?

David: I’m just a constant catalog of observation. Anytime I have the slightest possible idea for anything, like a name or a vibe, I write a note on my phone. I literally have a hundred things I’m working on. Any idea I have–I’ll make it–and see if it’s cool and if I can make it into a wearable fragrance. It becomes final when I show it to enough people, they like it, and it makes sense in our line.

Your fragrances tend to have highly specific names, like Burning Barbershop. Do you have that name to begin with, or do you create a scent and then think, This smells like a burning barbershop?

David: Sometimes. In terms of the names and the descriptions, because I do all that, it’s usually me trying to say in the shortest, most concise way what the whole vibe of the thing is. It starts with writing down everything I want to say, but less is more. So I just chop, chop, chop and get to something like, “beach water, rose, grass,” and then I finally get it down to “Rose Atlantic.”

Can you tell me more about Black Magenta?

David: I wanted to make something a little trashy and a little classy. This idea of this brash pink pineapple fragrance that has amber and tobacco—I see it as a fever dream of being out in Manhattan in your twenties on the way to the clubs. It’s definitely a loud and in-your-face fragrance.

From a production and design standpoint, hearing David talk so clearly about the vibe of Black Magenta, does that make your job easier?

Kavi: Oh yeah. I’m here to interpret what he’s making visually. Although, he has input on that as well. He tells me colors because he thinks in colors—like synesthesia when he makes perfume. So, there are specific colors related to each scent. Black Magenta was a particularly fun one because there are visual cues in the name.

In the same way there are makeup and clothing trends, do you notice scent trends?

Kavi: I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like, in general, people are kind of over minimalism and the clean aesthetic a bit.

David: Definitely.

Kavi: In the American fragrance market, the taste skews a little bit lighter, cleaner, and fresher than, say, the Middle East or Europe. They tend to like sweeter, stronger fragrances. But I think we’re moving more into that and away from this no-makeup-makeup version of fragrance.

David: I would say updated classics is the trend I think will happen again, which is another way of saying that the late ’90s and early aughts have come back. I think we’re stepping into a ’90s stage with the fruitier scents.

How is creating a candle different from a fragrance? Is it different?

David: It is, because scent is a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is the least useful and the most artistic, and the bottom is the most useful and least artistic. The top is perfume. It has no purpose but smell and the artistry of the story that you’re telling. The bottom of the pyramid would be like Febreze, covering up bad smells. Candles are somewhere in the middle—they are not as pure as fragrance because you’re lighting something on fire and smelling it through wax. What plays out on your skin with fragrance with your chemistry is a magical, aromatic symphony that keeps going. A candle can also be symphonic, but it’s more like something you’d want to be physically inside. You might want to live inside a hinoki tub in the forest but not want to smell like it on your body.

Other than personal fragrance, do you have any other must-have products?

Kavi: It’s very different for both of us. He’s very particular about soap; it has to be a bar, and it has to be a particular scent. He really only uses patchouli or cedar soaps.

David: I also like the South of France’s Almond one. I would say the only beauty product I interact with that I care about is a bar of soap. And I use Billy Jealousy hair mud.

Kavi: I’m very into beauty purchases. I do a full face of makeup every day because I really love putting on makeup; it’s my favorite thing. I usually wear a liquid winged liner, for that I really like Stila. If I’m going for a more smudgy look, I recently started using Victoria Beckham’s pencil, it’s really great. For my eyebrows I feel really strongly about Nyx’s products, I’ve tried everything and they are just the best.

As a packaging designer, I love using well-designed products. Like Westman Atelier, it’s just a pleasure to use; it’s so good, it’s crazy. It’s in these cylinders, and the caps just click on. The formulas are obviously amazing, too, but I love those products just for their design. I just bought the Fara Homidi lipstick, it’s beautiful.

Do either of you have a scent you’ve always yearned to recreate but can’t for some reason? Sort of that white whale of a fragrance for you?

David: No.

Kavi: [laughs] No, never say never.

David: There’s so many that I’m working on. I mean, there’s one that I haven’t got yet: I’m trying to make this thing that smells like the inside of a star, I’ll get it someday.



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