Scent and the City

Scent and the City

Meeting a natural perfumer and designer duo David and Kavi Moltz of DS & Durga in their element, you’re convinced that they were born to work with divine fragrances.

At a glance one might be of the opinion that the husband — wife duo must in fact be the leads for a zeigeist band. In fact, David (DS) is actually a musician turned perfumer, who translates musical notes into fragrance notes. They began crafting scents at their Brooklyn home which, admits trained architect Kavi (Durga, a nickname from her husband referencing the Hindu goddess) was never intended to be a commercial venture.

As their friendship bloomed into a love affair, so did their endearment for perfumery that went up a notch when they decided to go big. A self- taught perfumer, David makes sure that he plays around with plenty of ingredients before he narrows down a fragrance, its story and production; then wife Kavi makes sure that all goes well with packaging, product development and merchandising. A match made in heaven, they support each other in the “business-ship” as well.

They specialise in creating small-batch fragrances in-house, such as Amber Kiso with its notes of rare woods, temple incense, and leather bushi armor. White Peacock Lily, composed of lily, oleander, and alabaster violet, with a touch of vanilla, is stand-alone egoist. Whereas Rose Atlantic, with fresh-bergamot, dune-grass, salt-water, and white-moss notes, will take you for a walk along the seaside, and then there’s Radio Bombay – reminiscent of a lazy summer in the heat, with cedar, sandalwood, balsam-fir, and ambergris accords.  They recently spread their wings into the Indian market of perfumery. We spoke to Kavi as she unfolded, how it all began...

“The way we started was by making holiday gifts for our friends and David just began mixing different perfume and essential oils together. He kind of discovered that he had a knack for it and got very interested in it. By reading a lot more about it, he started experimenting more, and buying different ingredients. As a person, David is extremely obsessive, once he gets into something, he completes it. Brooklyn was a haven of creation – bands everywhere, art shows, happenings, etc. We felt like we were in on something and that success could happen overnight. Hence, perfumery wasn’t something that we were aiming at, yet it sort of happened for us,” says Kavi.

DS & Durga’s brand philosophy was definitely one that was a little on the beaten path and with a focus that was not very commercial. A decade ago, niche perfumery wasn’t something that abided by the norms of the commercial market, and scents with smokey and leathery notes weren’t available. “So it was kind of like a hole in the market that we spotted. Today,  the world of niche perfumery has really filled in, but we have always just wanted to be on the fringes of things and that’s where we feel most comfortable,” shares Kavi.

When it comes to, what makes them different from the rest of the scented market, Kavi tells us that visually she is quite inspired by brutalism, edginess and things that are dark. She feels that comes through in their work and visuals too. With a little bit of quirk, odd, strange and “rockin-rolla” vibes they both (David and Kavi) exuberate the same vibes through their names, stories, and fragrances that trigger memories. 

“Being a perfumer and designer duo, we are making everything ourselves and not going to a perfume house which is typically how it’s done. We are quite proud of the fact that we have done it all on our own and taught ourselves the tricks of the trade. It’s a really secretive and opaque industry. No one really wants to help you and in the beginning especially, no one assisted us in getting answers for our questions or clarifying our doubts,” shares Kavi.

Being such avid readers and lovers of literature, both David and Kavi love to bring in the usage of wordplay and mixed phrases into their perfumes. They love giving it its own identity for the user to decipher. Today, the couple can most often be found wearing experimental mixtures for new perfumes in the making. They also have a line of fragrances inspired by India, namely, D.S, Durga and many more in the making, but what drives them forward is an idea to capture the scent of India in all its entirety – with the vibrant spirit of the people, smells, poetic passages and the colours. 

“David is inspired by using Indian ingredients. There is a shop that we visited long ago and returned to in Delhi, located in Chandni Chowk — this old shop had small bottles of beautiful ittars and ingredients. We can’t use them in our perfumes as they are way too rare and expensive. But, they are our favourite things to smell in our own home as we really think that the best smelling things come from India,” says Kavi.

With sustainability being at the heart of their brand, their boxes are made out of 100 per cent paper with no foam in it which makes it completely recyclable, and also vegan, which is kind of rare. Not surprisingly, layers of fragrances pervade the air of their store with shelves lined with books, glass vials and bottles. Over the years they have built their own following, which only seems to grow stronger with time.

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja

Chitman Kanwar Ahuja is a feature writer at L'Officiel India. She is a silver jewellery hoarder and an aesthete of all arts. You can find her unraveling new stories day in and day out.