DS & Durga Make Perfume

Words by
Georgina Reid
| April 1, 2015

I’m not sure how I stumbled across New York based perfume house DS & Durga but the moment I did, I was intrigued. And when I got the chance to smell their scents, I was even more so….They’re unlike anything else. What I enjoy about their approach is the way they make connections between life, memory, music, art and fragrance – they’re not just about making nice scents, they’re about exploring the power and magic of scent to transport, transfix and provoke.

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DS & Durga was started in 2008 by husband and wife David and Kavi Moltz. ‘The intention was never to start a company, but our friends liked what we made and it just naturally evolved into a business from there’, Kavi says. The name, in case you’re wondering comes from Davids initials of David Seth and Kavi’s nickname of Durga, a Hindu goddess.

There’s a story to all of DS & Durga’s scents. Take Burning Barbershop,  for example. The description on their website goes like this: ‘A fire broke out in the Curling Bros. barbershop in Westlake, N.Y. in 1891. All the shaving tonics with their spearmint, lime, vanilla & lavender burned. A charred bottle was found half-full. It smelled like this.’ I don’t know about you but I WANT TO SMELL THIS NOW. The ingredients listing is pretty interesting too – it’s base notes include burning oil and hay. Mmm…

I had a chat to David about his scent making process. This is how it went:

How would you describe your work/what’s your scent philosophy? Can you give us some insight into your creative process?
I am always researching music, literature, history, geography, etc. I like to take pieces form a specific work and bring it to life. I make accords of real and imagined objects with raw materials (violins, saddles, jewels, etc) so that the final perfume has some bones. I really like the idea of leitmotifs where a specific phrase of music (in this case an aromatic accord) represents an object or a place. I want the sniffer of the perfume to be able to be transported to the world I’m making.

What is different about your scents?
I make all recipes in house; I don’t take my ideas elsewhere. I source all of my very specific materials myself. All the scents are compounded by hand. Most of the scents are inspired by sources outside of the perfume world. They are highly researched studies of a specific place and time. 

Can you please tell us more about the notion of ‘writing songs to scent’?
Scent is a great medium for creating an illusion or perhaps even a trapdoor to some collective unconsciousness. Perfume is like an invisible cloud that when sprayed sends the mind down imaginary pathways. Perhaps the pathways link up to other people’s visions when they smell the same scent/hear the same music…. Any art can do this. Perfume and music share some special connection for their mystical invisible world.

What is one lesson you have learnt since starting DS & Durga?
I have grown up as this business has progressed and it is part and parcel of who I am. There are too many things I have learned! I suppose the most obvious is that doing what you want to do is ripe for the taking. You know you will be successful if you are making something that doesn’t exist. If you can approach your discipline from a fresh angle, there will be merit in its novelty.

What other creative folk/artists/perfumers are you inspired by at the moment?

  • Gary Snyder’s epic poems “Mountains and Rivers without End” is so on point with my artistic approach – constantly mining the fringes of consciousness, imagination, and the endless horizon.
  • Ali Farka Toure – Desert music.
  • Gustav Mahler – always.
  • Drake – I have a soft spot for bad hip hop and Drake is at a point right now where new music and ideas are pouring out of him. I know I know!

What media resources do you look to for inspiration?
I’m more of the check Facebook for links to stupid videos guy. I don’t look online too much for inspiration unless its something I am researching. I’m really inspired by my friends – musicians, photographers, artists, designers, etc. I like the Instagram feeds of a bunch of people though – Preservation Sound, Ed Droste, Hey Studio, and El Cosmico.

What is your dream perfume? Have you made it yet?
I love wearing the pure oils of the greats – Mysore Sandalwood, Rose Attar, Aged Patchouli, Rose Otto, etc. I am working on simple combos of these things. I love finding the perfect ration of only 3 ingredients where they are in perfect harmony. It’s very tough to nail.

What are you looking forward to?
Watching my children grow up. Working out artistic ideas in music, perfume, and combing the two. I am performing in Marfa at El Cosmico in April with a scent machine that I play in time with my new group “Pale Grey Mountain.”

What does your kitchen smell like?
Lilies and tuberose at the moment.

What did your childhood smell like?
Ocean, pine woods, autumn leaves, beach rose, suntan lotion, lemon dishwashing soap.

What is your favourite smell?
Ha. Impossible. Gun to my head Mysore Sandalwood. Or rose.

If you were a plant, what would you be?
Bitter Orange? Such a useful tree and you get to look out at the sea in the South of France. Or a rose bush on Phillips Beach in my hometown of Swampscott, MA.

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Images supplied by DS & Durga.

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