D.S. & Durga’s approach to scent is far from typical. It’s bold, electric, evocative but still has layers of unique subtlety and deep care. The NY-based brand sells their perfumes, candles, body care, and even auto scents (so genius) all over the globe and incorporate their design chops and love of travel, music, and art and imbue it into everything they create and craft. The founders Kavi and David Moltz liken their fragrances to an “invisible soundtrack that you can carry on your body throughout the day” and we’ve got to admit, wearing one of their scents gives us an undeniable, heady buzz.
Melissa: Give me a little background, obviously you are an architect and designer by trade. How does that factor into your design?
Kavi: I studied and have my master’s in architecture. About two years after I finished my master’s degree, I was working at an architect’s office in New York, where I met David and we got together. We started making some holiday gifts for friends. We wanted to make scented tonic waters, some kind of homemade beauty tonics, like an aftershave, that kind of thing. So, we were naturally playing around with scented oils. Our friends really liked what we were making, and we thought, “well, maybe we have something here.” David was a musician and a waiter when we met. I was working as an architect, but I wasn’t completely fulfilled, so we thought maybe we would just see what could come of this. So, we did, and that was roughly 10 years ago. We opened this store a year ago and we have a lot of growth happening right now.
Melissa: I can imagine.
Kavi: In terms of my architectural background, it was actually just quite easy and natural to carry over my design sense. I mean, we both feel that once you kind of design or create something, you can translate that into many disciplines. It’s really about just knowing what you like, knowing what your style is, and having your kind of language of critique and design down. I knew what I wanted it to look like, and just about three or four years ago, we were able to finally put everything in the packaging we wanted, because until then, it had looked different. It’s looked three, four, five different ways over the years.
Melissa: How do you come up with the names of each particular scent, and what’s your process for creating scents? Is it whenever you feel inspired, you start creating something? Or is it a gradual growth through the years you know, keep adding onto the collection??
Kavi: You can’t afford the nice custom box you want, a custom anything, and I mean, just making a custom mold for our perfume cap, just the mold itself, costs an insane amount. It was horrifying to us! I mean, when we first started, we were buying stock bottles and they would say the minimum is a hundred bottles. Even that freaked me out.
Melissa: Of course!
Kavi: When you’re just starting from absolutely nothing, it’s a side project. So it took a while to get to this point, but we have a very solid foundation, and have made really careful decisions along the way. So, David, who you’ll meet in a moment, makes all the perfumes. I do the visuals, the packaging, and the branding. David is very prolific in every way, he writes all this music, he writes poetry, and he makes a lot of perfumes. I think at the moment he has around 20-30 different projects in various stages in the works. If it were up to him, he would probably launch 10 new scents a year because he has got that much stuff going on. Our new launch that we are working on right now, which we are promoting today, is an Orange Blossom perfume. We don’t have an Orange Blossom scent, so this is a really beautiful kind of project. We want to have one of each kind of main scent.
Melissa: That’s amazing. How did you come up with the branding and the packaging? Was there one place you started and ended up or again, was it a work in progress?
Kavi: When we started it was this kind of time in Brooklyn where everyone was making their own things and very inspired by the 19th century kind of mindset and aesthetic. Our product definitely looked a lot more different and handcrafted over the years. D.S. & Durga kind of happened by accident because when we started we didn’t realize we were actually starting a brand.
Initially, it was more of an art project that we were doing on the side. With niche perfumes you are really trying to focus on the juice inside and not have this big marketing ploy with the way it looks. They are quite understated, which goes with my general design aesthetic. The designs tend to be very modern. The box itself is very architectural, and sculptural. It’s got dimension, light and shadow. We make this custom color and cap to make it our own.
Melissa: It’s gorgeous. It is very architectural and very stackable. What was the first scent that you created and what does that scent remind you of?
Kavi: That’s a good question. “Cowboy Grass” was our first scent that we made, and it really reminds me of when we first started. We literally thought we were going to make everything by hand. We even had a distiller and we’d distill our own oils before realizing that it was not a sustainable way. But it speaks very much to the way that we started.
“Cowboy Grass” started with the base tincture, which was alcohol. Then we would go to these Persian stores and buy these Persian limes, and these dried rose petals and distill it. That was just the base and then we would make a perfume with that. So, it was just this very labor-intensive process. Whenever I smell “Cowboy Grass” I always think of this little vial and have this crazy intense “we’re going to do everything from scratch” thought process.
Melissa: We love learning about people’s beauty regimens. What is your beauty regimen and also what is your scent regimen? Do you change it up? Do you layer scents?
Kavi: I change it up and layer for sure. I have all this available to me all the time, so I love to change it up. We’re very much in more of that fragrance wardrobe camp rather than the signature stamp camp. I am more into just wearing different things based on my mood. Our new launch is actually our second fragrance enhancer, which is intended to be layered – you can wear it alone as well.
Melissa: When someone comes to buy something for the first time, how do you get them educated? As it’s overwhelming for someone coming in and trying to choose something because you are smelling all different types of things. What’s the process for them to purchase?
Kavi: David do you have a special way? When someone comes in and is kind of overwhelmed, how do you walk to direct them to something?
David: Ask what they like. It can be very vague, or it can be broad. Then I tailor towards that. Telling them to smell their own scent in between really helps.
Kavi: I think you can tell a lot from their reactions to certain things, ask them to try a few things and what they think about it. Then continue on to the next one. If they like that, then we point them into similar directions, based on what they like.
Melissa: Yeah. So, once you get their reaction, then you can lead them into the direction.
Melissa: Do you make everything here in New York?
Kavi: The formulas are made in Brooklyn in our studio and then everything is compounded in the Bronx. So, yes, it’s all made in New York. We are sold in many, many other stores across the country too. We just opened this one about a year ago. We’re also international – we are in Europe, Southeast Asia, India and also in Japan, Hungary and Australia. We’ve done a lot of international expansion in the past two, three years.
Melissa: Do you find that different locations lean towards different types of scents?
Melissa: Was that surprising to you?
Kavi: I mean, I guess it is surprising how much it’s really true. In the Middle East, they definitely favor, and love Oud so much, which actually comes from the Agarwood tree that makes a substance to fight off infections. Anyway, so this material is very prized and special, but some people really hate it. It is a really strong scent, so people from the Middle East tend to love it. It has a lot of cultural significance for them. It is so cultural. We just launched in Russia, and David said that people would walk into a store there and say, “what’s your heaviest or just strongest scent?”. That is just something you would just never hear here.
Melissa: The same in California. How did you decide on the name?
Kavi: D.S. is David Seth, that was kind of his stage name when he was a touring musician when we met stands for David Seth.
Melissa: Is that his middle name?
Kavi: Yes, and Durga was a nickname that he gave to me. It’s not based on the Indian goddess. It’s actually based on a character in a movie by Satyajit Ray, he’s an Indian director and actually, there is this young girl in the movie that he thought I resembled.
Melissa: Young, beautiful girl. Was it always this name from day one?
Kavi: Since day one.
Melissa: Interesting. Did you draw all of these?
Kavi: So I just sketch the branding and packaging. Once you make your perfume bottles, like the package, there is not much you get to do. I was kind of feeling stifled by just having to conform to this kind of branding— the template that we have laid out. So, I thought the candles would be a fun idea, something a little more descriptive. Lastly, for all the lyrics on the packaging, they were chosen by our team from various love songs, and we printed them on here. This design was just for this specific drop.
Melissa: That’s so sweet. And music is obviously very present vis-a-vis David…
Kavi: Music is just the most important thing to both of us. Much of what we do is informed by it and we’re just so inspired by music and musicians. David is a musician. When you smell some of the scents, I would imagine that brings a memory back to same as music does for so many people. It’s like that time you remember something, or you hear that song you love, I would imagine this feels the same.
Getting to exercise that creative muscle because there is a lot more that goes into just making a new perfume launch
Melissa: How does travel inspire both of you?
Kavi: I mean I love travel. David loves travel too, but it’s not the easiest thing for him to do.
David: Well, I mean first of all, I love the idea of creating landscapes that you can enter, and I’m dragged everywhere because she loves to travel, so I ended up gaining knowledge about all of these places that I never would have gone to before.
Melissa: What scents do you love to wear?
David: I mean I’m always wearing everything that I’m doing, but in my heart of hearts I love dousing myself in really heavy scents. I love Patchouli. I love burning incense in the house like Eucalyptus, Amber and a lot of Sandalwood.
Kavi: A lot of pure oils, which is kind of why we made our first fragrance enhancer. We’re inspired a lot by India because my family is there, and we travel there. The best smells are from there, and so many of the best perfume ingredients exist there.
Melissa: So, what’s on the horizon? What’s next outside of the Orange Blossom fragrance launch?
David: In the winter we did a drop for Valentine’s Day, where we made 25 bottles of fragrance and it sold out in like a day and a half. I want to do more of those things where we make them special and limited.
Kavi: Getting to exercise that creative muscle because there is a lot more that goes into just making a new perfume launch. We are in this time where the brand means so much.