This month, the couple behind niche fragrance line D.S. & Durga is releasing their distinctly different and latest collection of unisex fragrances, called HYLNDS (pronounced "highlands"). The lyrically named Bitter Rose Broken Spear; Isle Ryder; and Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake were each inspired by different ancient Northern European cultures. Brooklyn-based husband-and-wife team, David and Kavi Moltz, together create the charming brand of scents (David is the nose and mastermind behind the creative concept; Kavi is the graphic design genius). "I was reading Yates's Wandering of Oisin, and this whole world opened up to me where I wanted to go into the writing and figure out what everything meant; so what I did is research all the myths associated with the region and find the aromatic components of each —definitely plants like thistles and 'melancholy rose'," David told us.
Bitter Rose Broken Spear captures the essence of some ancient traveling knights in Scotland (embers, nutmeg, thyme, amber), while notes of jasmine, Norway spruce, fir cones, and mead attempt to bring Celtic myths to life in Isle Ryder. Pale Grey Mountain, Small Black Lake, which includes layers of water pepper, lichen, beachwood, and heather shrub, is meant to transport you to the cool water's edge of Northern Ireland's mythic mountain, Armagh. "I’m generally not going to try and capture the smell of hope or fear," says Moltz of his blending process. "So I’ll try to make an accord based on something, like the heather shrubs that are growing on this one mountain, some are natural, some synthetic, to kind of conjure that foggy feeling; you layer [notes] and it’s a lot like sculpture. For instance, it took 300 different iterations to get the one I wanted."
Each fragrance comes neatly packaged with its own story concept and illustrated glossary of terms, both imagined and brought to life by Moltz's artistic hand and curious cat persona ("research is essential to what we do"). Priced at $180 per bottle, HYLNDS is almost double the price of any D.S. & Durga fragrance. But these special, otherworldy blends are truly meant for Moltz's "perfume geek."
They sat down with the Cut to discuss which of their celebrity idols would wear the fragrance and the special wedding gift David hand-blended for Kavi.
If you were to pick a musician to wear HYLNDS, who would it be?
David: Van Morrison, but he's so mean.
Kavi: I would veto that.
D: He’d probably be like, "I don’t care about this fucking Irish bullshit. These guys don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about."
K: I feel like Bob Dylan … he sings that lullaby, that Irish lullaby …
D: We’d be so honored if someone like that saw the richness behind it. I don’t know if Bob Dylan thinks that perfume could be that deep, you know?
K: Doesn’t he have a house there, too?
D: Yeah, in Highlands near Aberdeen. Van Morrison would be the main one, though. Truthfully, my mom always says that with Van Morrison you can always tell when he gets the spirit in him when he’s like "Got a home on high. Ain't nothing but a stranger in this world." That’s what Highlands is, that, like, call to a primal world that we are all connected to that goes so far back in every culture. I feel no musician gets that thing more than him. I think Van Morrison gets that, it’s just who he is.
You consider yourself a "perfume geek." What were the early scents you really geeked out on?
D: I was not a perfume geek before, it’s only recently that I’ve started paying attention to what other perfumes are, smelling them, buying them, and breaking them down. Before I wasn’t, I always really like scents, but …
So were you wearing fragrances before D.S. and Durga?
D: Yeah, ever since I was a kid. I’ve definitely always liked fragrance. I’ve always loved Polo in the green bottle, that was like my childhood scent. Yeah, but it’s more sophisticated. It’s so strong, though. I also wore Pierre Cardin when I was a young kid. But then when the nineties came, in high school, I’m not going to lie, I definitely wore Tommy like everyone else did.
Does that mean you wore Polo Green and Pierre Cardin when you were in elementary school?
D: When I was 7, I won the Pierre Cardin in a raffle. It was the second year of camp, that’s like where it started. But definitely in seventh grade, that’s like when it started. When you’re like 12 and sweaty and going to school dances and putting your hands on girls' butts. Everyone was wearing Drakkar Noir, but I was wearing Polo in the green bottle.
And you, Kavi?
K: When I was really young, I wore Benetton Colors and Betsey Johnson. Then, for a long time, before we started D.S. & Durga, I wore Odor 71 by Comme des Garçon.
D: Yeah, you were wearing that when I met you, and I loved that.
K: I can’t stand it now.
D: I love it; it’s like hot light bulbs.
K: I could never imagine wanting to put it on now. I just wore it out.
D: I wonder what I was wearing when you met me ... pretty soon after we met, I started making crappy stuff, like tincturing flowers and stuff. We met in June and we started making stuff in December of 2007. I wanted to make her a perfume. I was wearing Bay Rum and Santa Maria Novella, when we first met. I wore this stinky leather one, Peau d’Espagne, Spanish Skin.
What fragrance did you make for her?
D: It was a tincture.
What is a tincture?
D: It’s when you soak something in alcohol. So it’s literally like strong vodka with rose petals, lime, and grapefruit.
K: I loved it. This tincture he’s talking about literally became the base for Cowboy Grass, our first scent for D.S. & Durga. It’s not made like that anymore, because we don’t make it anymore, but I think it’s really what made that scent so special in the beginning. I loved it; I still love it. I still have some of the original stuff.
D: It just doesn’t last. A tincture doesn’t last.
What scent did you wear when you got married?
K: We had three different events for our wedding and he made me a perfume for each one. He packaged them in vintage bottles that he got on eBay. It was a whole thing; he had them delivered to me.
D: For Indian weddings, you’re supposed to get the wife a present. I could have got her diamonds and stuff, but instead of doing that … there are three events. The Mehndi, which is the fun party the night before. The actual wedding, which is serious and spiritual. Then the fancy reception. She loves neroli, orange blossom, so I made … I also ordered small samples of the top stuff I could at the time, like all of the stuff I had never smelled because they were too expensive ever to use, and I made her this neroli scent that kind of smells like pickles now.
K: I still think it smells great. His style has definitely improved since then; he just knows more now.
Have you made her other things?
D: All the time. Like, she wanted a coconut scent not too long ago.
K: If I ever mention something on a whim …
D: She’s also pregnant, so I make her pregnancy things.
Do your scents change when you’re pregnant?
K: I don’t wear perfume when I’m pregnant.
D: You just never know what chemicals are good and stuff. But I’ve made her stuff like ylang ylang, jasmine, or patchouli.
K: He just thinks it’s safest for me not to wear perfumes.
D: You never know…say you’re wearing your perfume and it has a lot of thyme in it. It’s just not good for babies. There are a lot of essential oils you shouldn’t wear while pregnant. They say not to wear rose in the first trimester, and who knows about these other synthetic things. It’s better to be safe when you’re pregnant. The naturals are definitely more dangerous than the synthetics; I think that’s the biggest misconception, because there’s like 120 different aromatic chemicals in a natural as opposed to one or two in a synthetic. Who knows … no one’s an expert; you just have to be cautious. Herbs are strong stuff.