DIY Perfumers D.S. & Durga Know What Happiness Smells Like

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Rose AtlanticCourtesy D.S. & Durga

David and Kavi Moltz, founders of the cult New York perfume brand, share a selection of their favourite scents

D.S. & Durga will take you to another world. The New York perfume brand has been creating strange, innovative and evocatively-named fragrances for over a decade now – all of them bewitchingly transportive. There’s Rose Atlantic, which smells like the salty sea breeze of the American east coast, with notes of sun-ripened rosehip and white wine spritzer. There’s Cowboy Grass, which – with its pangs of sagebrush, prairie switchgrass and dirty leather – will hurl you back in time to the dry, brutal expanse of the Wild West. The brand’s scented candles are equally potent, with aromas that range from Big Sur After The Rain (eucalyptus, soaked earth, ocean) to Concrete After Lightning (street weeds, steam, cement). Unlike most perfumers, the end goal isn’t about creating the most conventionally appealing scent – instead, it is about crafting sensuous, aromatic poetry; the kind that triggers nostalgic memories, both real and imagined. “Perfume is armchair travel,” the brand declares on its website. “Our scents are fragments of half-remembered myths and imaginary landscapes that invite exploration.”

Although now stocked in some of the world’s most exclusive retailers, D.S. & Durga had humble beginnings. The brand was founded in 2008 by Brooklyn-based couple David and Kavi Moltz, more as a creatively fulfilling side hobby than as a viable business venture. At the time, Kavi was working as an architect, while David was a musician and waiter, floating between hospitality jobs in New York. “I knew nothing about perfume, nothing about the perfume business and nothing about business,” remembers David today. He had, however, always been interested in scent – particularly the kind that was an overlooked part of the everyday, like the aroma from street weeds that grow “out of the cracks” in Brooklyn. “I just got into fragrance and realised I could make whole little worlds in a bottle.”

Now, David is D.S. & Durga’s principal perfumer: all the scents are created solely by him in their Brooklyn studio. Co-founder Kavi is the brand’s designer, overseeing all the packaging, store interiors, and visual identity. Together, the pair work hard to keep the company’s DIY spirit alive, prioritising independence and innovation over mass-scale production and development. They are also fiercely meticulous when it comes to detail – a recent New York-themed scented candle, made during the pandemic, contained wafts of Brooklyn-grown street flowers, denim, apple, Chinese cedar (a reference to Chinatown) and even some hints of bootleg colognes (reminiscent of the markets on Canal Street). “It’s like a snapshot of what New York could smell like,” says Seth, passionately. “It’s really tough and resilient, and strong-smelling.”

New scents – from perfumes and candles, to hand creams, soaps and sanitisers – are being released by D.S. & Durga all the time. David’s nose is always working on new aromatic concoctions, which end up being immaculately packaged and marketed by Kavi. Here, they talk through some of their favourite aromas of the current moment – including a couple of their most recent releases – and reveal what makes them so magic.

The Atlantic Ocean

David Moltz: I grew up in New England by the ocean, so that is the smell of my childhood. That also comes with the smell of docks: of boat gas and peeling boat paint, of barnacles and algae. Smelling that is like instant home to me.


DM: Our new fragrance, Jazmin Yucatan, is based on when we went to the Yucatan, in Mexico. You have the ocean there, but when you go inland it’s like going back in time. I remember just driving through the jungle and it just being green forever, you can’t see the horizon. You’re just going deeper into this historic, sacred place and there are sunken channels of water, limestone, and roadside passionflowers. And then you have the smell of Jazmín Yucateco – a wild Jasmine, which is fragrant and melon-like and beautiful. I wanted the perfume to smell like that; very humid, very like Jasmine. It’s already become one of our bestsellers this year.

Kavi Moltz: Also, I remember walking outside in India and street vendors would be selling balloons, candy and long strands of Jasmine flowers – like night-blooming Jasmine – and you’d buy a strand of it and wrap your hair in it, then place them under our pillows or next to our heads as we slept. All night it was just this fragrance of Jasmine.


KM: Growing up, we would spend our summers in India, and my uncle would always place fresh stems of Tuberose on my nightstand. They just had the most intoxicating smell that would fill the room. 

New York

DM: New York smells like trash, but also flowering plants. If you get near the river, you can smell the Hudson, which is like a stinky, fresh watery smell. Then there’s all the ethnic food, the smell of baking, of burnt pretzels cooked on an open flame. Our candle, Concrete After Lightning is the smell of New York in August – when it rains then, the petrichor on the concrete has a very particular smell. 

Ylang Ylang

DM: Ylang ylang makes me happy. If I ever feel super stressed, I smell it and I can feel my central nervous system just relax.

KM: Yeah, it works for me and for our kids, too. If they’re feeling stressed David will just drop some ylang ylang essential oil on their pillows and it soothes and relaxes them.


DM: I love the culture of sailor Caribbean colognes. They’re very spicy, old fashioned, citrusy and powdery. I wanted to make a really beautiful fragrance [in tribute], which is called St Vetyver. It smells of Caribbean vetiver, but also rum and sour orange and straw – like the Panama hats. It’s sort of like a fancy, modern sailor cologne. We were stuck at home during the pandemic and couldn’t really travel, so this is a little Caribbean vacation in a bottle.