The Founders of D.S. & Durga on How to Create a Mood
David and Kavi Moltz, the brains behind Brooklyn-based fragrance studio D.S. & Durga, make more than intoxicating scents. They’re also masters of building a story and mythology around their creations. David develops the scents while Kavi handles the design and aesthetic for the brand they founded in 2008, and in the wake of their recent Manhattan store opening, we talked with them about how they breathe life into spaces and use fiction as fuel.
Q. Let’s start with the new shop on Mulberry Street, which is full of so many wonderful small details. How did you figure out where to start?
Kavi: “It started with visualizing the feeling we wanted it to have, which is a little bit tough and edgy, a little rock ‘n roll. We wanted to convey all these things, and we did that mostly through the use of materials that we love, like spiked acrylic panels on the shelves, a lot of concrete, and black metals. The atmosphere is a little bit on the sparse side. We didn’t want to clutter it up with too many props and objects that would distract. To soften it up, we have these colored LED lights on the wall that can change into a range of colors. They really help to create a mood that enhances whatever scent we’re focusing on. We’re going to have monthly events in the store where we will be highlighting each scent. David will come in and talk about the ingredients and what he was trying to achieve while making the scent, and we’ll be able to show what colors fit the mood. We also have a playlist that goes with each scent because each scent it like a whole world, and we are trying to dive-deep into each one.”
Q. Related to that, each scent has a whole story that sounds very real but is fictional. Where do those narratives come from?
David: “I have a running list of names and ideas that I’m constantly adding to as I’m moving through the world and reading things and researching. I keep an inquisitive mind to get into new ideas for scents. Then I’ll work on things to make them come to life aromatically. To me, it’s a forgone conclusion that you can convey the same ideas that you could in music or poetry or painting or sculpture with fragrance, and that’s what I do. The story that comes with Siberian Snow is about how it was worn by a woman named Anna Vladiskova at her famous balls in Siberia. Kavi always tells this story about someone saying to her, ‘I’ve been looking and looking, and I can’t find any record of this woman!’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, she doesn’t exist.’ We were just imagining that this would be the type of thing that someone like that would wear. It’s like diet Tolstoy.”
Q. From a practical perspective, how do you get things done?
David: “For me it’s being at the desk with my music. We’re both always on and thinking about creative ideas and also business ideas. Which is fine—that’s the modern world. As I mentioned, I write tons and tons of ideas directly in my phone’s note section, and those notes become fodder for what the fragrances will become. I’m a musician as well, and I’ve written so many songs, like melodies and certain lyrics, in the shower or on the subway. And I think that whole ethos is a very foundational principle of our brand in general because it came out of being interested in finding beauty around us in the city. So part and parcel of that is living such a life that you are keeping an open gate to inspiration at all times.”
Kavi: “It’s not the sexiest answer, but I definitely agree with that. There are two parts to it. You’re creative by getting inspired, which happens as you’re moving through the world and absorbing everything around you. We read a lot and go to museums and travel, but I think to crystalize it, for both David and I, it all really happens when you have the time to concentrate and focus at your desk. That’s when everything comes together.”
Q. Are there regular sources you look to for inspiration, whether it’s for a scent or a store?
David: “When people ask ‘what inspires you,’ I don’t quite understand how to answer because it’s just everywhere. A weed growing out of a sidewalk crack in Bed-Stuy influences me just as much as a Gustav Mahler symphony—and that’s the truth—so I’m just constantly taking notes.”
Kavi: “There are so many subtle ways that we get inspired that culminate in an actual piece of work or design, and to be able to pinpoint a single one or two in a way like that feels forced. When David makes a scent, like Cowboy Grass for example, it’s inspired by robbers on horseback in the Wild West, but there are a lot of nuances that go into inspiration. I think that you can’t identify all the things that inspire you to actually make something, and if you could, it’s too constructed anyway. It comes down to a feeling.”