"Fragrance is very transportative," says David Moltz, the perfumer and co-owner of New York-based fragrance line D.S. & Durga. "It can take your mind to other places." Such was my experience when I first stumbled across the line's '85 Diesel candle in a shop: one sniff had me back in the crinkled-leather backseat of my parents' 1985 Mercedes-Benz station wagon, the smell of gasoline floating in my window. "It's the exact same thing as when you put on Dixieland jazz in your apartment," says Moltz. "It's going to sound like a really fun party—even if it's just your shitty New York apartment."
The inspiration for the candle came from a similarly nostalgic experience Moltz had after buying a diesel car of his own a few years ago. "I grew up in a nice suburb north of Boston," he explains. "Around the corner, lived this woman who would drive us to school sometimes, and she had an old diesel car. We'd sit in the back on the cold, blonde leather—turns out it was really vinyl—and there was just that diesel-y smell: dusty, saffron, and old. Right when I stepped into my own car, I thought: I have to capture this."
Moltz's path into the world of fragrance was a circuitous one; he first spent several years in New York living as a musician and waiter. He found himself fascinated by books on herbs and plants, and spending more and more time in old bookshops, hunting down outdated recipes, along with texts on native ritual medicine and Victorian gardening.
"I was actually distilling pine needles from behind my parents' house in the woods—which was insane."
He first tried his hand at scent-making in December of 2007. "At first, I was just making a bay rum," he says. He started to learn more, quickly, and had scents he could give away by the time Christmas rolled around a few weeks later. His partner in the endeavor, Kavi Moltz (now, also his wife), suggested they start a business: he would design the fragrances, she would design the packaging. "She was an architect," he explains, "and I was a musician and waiter. I was making them by hand, with labels from my wife's printer."
The line launched with four fragrances, as well as an aftershave for New York City menswear store Freeman's. "I was actually distilling pine needles from behind my parents' house in the woods," he explains, "which was insane." By the following February, the line was being carried at In God We Trust and Earnest Sewn, too, which Moltz credits to relationships built over years in the restaurant business. "I'm always asked: 'What advice do you have for young people who want to start a business? I always say: go work in the coolest coffee shop. I worked in St. Helen's Cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I met everyone by being there—and before that, I worked at Cafe Gitane [in New York's West Village]. I'd met all these cool people from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and that opened doors."
Moltz sees the business as being very much about storytelling. To that end, he recently did an event at Chicago's Poetry Foundation during which he told a story through 12 scents. A dozen large, glass cloches were presented to attendees, who would smell each aroma as they read accompanying texts telling of a boy's journey into the forest, whereupon he finds a magic crystal, before turning into a beast.
"As I did it, I realized: I can get my ideas out through fragrance in the same way as music."
He's eager to expand the manner in which people engage with fragrance, as evidenced by a recent performance he did his new band Copal Opal. It took place in a teepee in Marfa, TX—at the town's beloved hotel and campground El Cosmico—and doubled as a celebration for the signature scent they'd created for the property. For the show, Moltz had designed a special scent machine, which employed 16 foot pedals to create different perfume combinations, which would then be sent into a centrifugal fan, and pumped out to everyone in the crowd.
The people of D.S. & Durga view scent as something people should feel empowered to interact with in unconventional ways, and have plans to release a product that will allow their customers to do just that on a regular basis. Moltz's goal is to create "a series of fragrances that are quite simple on their own—but with the ability to interweave with one another." And, in June, the company will be rolling out a full packaging redesign along with four new scents, all of which will benefit from the seven years in which Moltz has been able to refine his skills since designing the line's last batch back in 2009, when he was still a musician waiting tables on the side. "As I did it, I realized: I can get my ideas out through fragrance in the same way as music," he says with excitement. "With perfume," he rhapsodizes, "I can make it smell like 12th-century Florence, or the back of a hill in China in prehistoric times. The trickery involved is such that I can conjure much more."
For more on D.S. & Durga, visit dsanddurga.com.