We all know smoking kills, but thank god we were all young, naive, and thought we were invincible so we took repetitive smoke breaks outside of bars in the wee hours of the morning. I say this because Kavi and David met outside one of said bars on the corner of 4th and B in the East Village many moons ago. At the time, she was an architect, he was a musician, but fast-forward some 15 years and now they’re the duo behind the cult fragrance line, D.S.&Durga.
Pia and I had the pleasure of hanging out in David and Kavi’s studio one morning, enveloped in all things scent and the stories that fuel them. What I love about D.S.&Durga’s scents are their complexity. They are anything but one note, instead you are given an entire story in a bottle. While in the studio David began describing a scene of Bach composing music in a cafe in Leipzig. I could picture what he was describing but when he spritzed some perfume on my wrist I was THERE, in Leipzig with Bach and tobacco and the butter of the croissant I was eating, heavy in my mouth. These two masterminds transport you to other worlds with their artistry and I’m still craving that croissant and Bach’s organ heavy notes.
You may run a business together, but you work very separately within that business. Which roles do you each play within the business and how you stay out of each other’s way?
D.S. (a.k.a. David): I handle perfumes, stories, and production.
Durga (a.k.a. Kavi): I handle designs, product development, and merchandising.
We both run the business with our team. David oversees more production and Kavi numbers. We respect each other’s expertise and work in separate offices. Work blends into life. We find each other to be incredible partners in both and prioritize supporting each other’s voices in our respective creations.
D.S.&Durga was on the forefront of the DIY Brooklyn Movement back in the early aughts. What was Brooklyn like back then? The energy, the community? How were you able to capitalize on it?
Brooklyn was a haven of creation – bands everywhere, art shows, happenings. We felt like we were in on something and that success could happen overnight. All our friends were doing something interesting. Brooklyn still has some of this magic, but the whole world has changed (and many people have gone west!) We didn’t consciously start a business to be a part of a movement. It just sort of happened as we explored everything that we loved in the arts and translated them to scent.
David, the names of your perfumes are legendary, “Burning Barbershop, CowboyGrass, Mississippi Medicine,” just to name a few. I know the stories you wish them to evoke are just as specific. Which typically comes first, the name or the story? And where do you get your inspiration for both?
I have a running list of names and ideas. I usually try to conjure them over time – building out the accords of objects, plants, and places that will weave together into the whole. Inspiration comes all the time – I am a voracious reader/researcher. I want the names and the juice to be authentic to the idea I am trying to get across. I want to bring people into the world inside of the bottle that actually then exists in their own mind.
Of your scents, which would you gift to a D.S.&Durga newbie as an intro into the world of your fragrances?
Probably Debaser because a fig is both classic and interesting. Our Debaser is creamy and lifelike with dry woods that add depth to the base. It’s also very unisex. But if I spoke to the person, even better. I love chatting fragrances and helping match people with what they are going to love.
Sometimes when I walk into the right gas station all the elements combine perfectly, and I am enveloped by the scent of my father — nicotine, rubber, Bianca Breath spray, oiled leather, gas, cheap cologne and asphalt. It can be as comforting as a physical hug. Together, you have two young kids. What scents do you think (or hope!) they will associate with each of you?
David: I think about this all the time. My kids are 5 and 7 and know all about vetiver, patchouli, and ylang ylang. They come to my office a lot and I make them stuff. I think they will have a wide array of scent associations, and hopefully will be able to express and understand what is going on in a fragrance.
Kavi: There is a specific scent of our studio – which is all scents mixed together – that I think will be a strong scent memory for them. I used to spend time each summer “working” in my parents’ medical office filing away stuff for them. They are very specific memories and they smell dusty and hot. I think our children are similarly fascinated with our work and they love being involved with making scents.
Scent is so intricately intertwined with nostalgic. What are you both nostalgic for?
David: I remember the scent of countless things from the past and use them as a sort of card catalogue that I can recall and use as needed in formulating. I love the scents of a New England, Scotland, the desert, the ocean, wayside flowers that are almost forgotten, the forest, the Alps.
Kavi: My grandmother’s vanity table during holidays spent in Delhi. Her Pond’s cold cream, her bottle of Joy Perfume, the string of jasmine flowers encircling her thick black bun. Fresh flowers all around the house, changed daily. The scent of the smoky air as soon as the plane lands in India. The scent of our daughter’s breath.