As anyone who has ever been to Gowanus, Brooklyn can attest, it’s not the first place you would think to locate a luxury perfume house. Gowanus itself is a malodorous canal whose scent is best described as eau de (actual) toilet. But the neighborhood is also home to the much, much better smelling fragrance label D.S. & Durga, and its delightful founders David and Kavi Moltz.
“Do you want to smell some awesome things and some awful things?” David asks, as he ushers me into their studio space. I figure it could only be uphill from what was going on outside, so I accept. Inside, I’m met with a mix of incredible scents wafting from the hundreds of tiny bottles that line the walls. As David pulled out different essences for me to smell, I asked Kavi how he keeps track of them all. “I’m sure there’s a method to the madness,” she said. “But I don’t touch them!”
The husband and wife own the company—it's named after David's initials (David Seth) and his nickname for Kavi (Durga is a Hindu goddess)—and control all the finer details themselves. David, a former musician, is the nose of the business, while Kavi, a trained architect and designer, creates all of their packaging. They started by making perfumes for friends and spiraled from there. “I realized the stories I was telling with lyrics could be told with scents,” says David. “And Kavi could design products that wouldn’t take years of construction planning to build.” Now D.S. & Durga includes 13 scents as well as a secondary line, called Hylnds, with five additional perfumes and is sold at Barneys.
As David sprays each of the perfumes for me to sample, he tells me the story of the scent. Silent Grove, a mélange of white flower, lotus, lime and grapefruit, was inspired by a pond behind his parents’ house where he used to play as a kid. I tell him it's the best-smelling pond I've ever heard of. “Oh, you want to smell the actual pond?” he asks, digging through drawers in a cabinet on his desk. “It’s freaking gross.” He sprays another strip of paper and hands it over. Let’s just say I was glad he took some artistic liberties with the pond water.
Another, called Sir, is an homage to his grandfather and smells of patchouli, cognac, amber, and cigars. He created it to wear on his wedding day. “I love really rich, old-fashioned smells,” says David.
On the topic of vintage perfumes, I ask them what they grew up smelling. For David, it was a bottle of Pierre Cardin he won at a raffle and some Polo Ralph Lauren Green that he swiped from his dad. For Kavi, it was Colors by Benetton and Betsey Johnson. And then we all spend some time reminiscing about Davidoff Cool Water (and I confess that I bought this bottle for every single one of my middle and high school boyfriends).
Today, the couple can most often be found wearing experimental mixtures for new perfumes in the making. “I hate the idea of a signature scent,” says David. Kavi agrees: “We consider perfume to be a part of your wardrobe,” she says. “Like clothes, you can change it each day depending on your mood. A really amazing scent can instantly dress you up when you’re just wearing a t-shirt and jeans.”
Other offerings in their collection include scents with names like Boston Ivy, Burning Barbershop, Italian Citrus, and Cowboy Grass.The names and notes are straightforward, but complex and storied, just as David intended.
As I leave the studio, I give myself a little spritz of Poppy Rouge (hot jazz, orange blossom, bourbon vanilla, and tuberose) and just like that, Gowanus smells a lot less like a sewer and a whole lot more like New Orleans circa 1920. Just call it the miracle of D.S. & Durga.
Photo 1 by Tom Newton. Photo 3-5 by Victoria Lewis.