I have always been fascinated by the ancient indigenous cultures of North America. I have spent a lot of travel visiting the ancient sites. This includes the numerous Mayan locales in the Yucatan peninsula. When I was in the country traveling around during the 1986 World Cup, I ended up visiting a cenote with some of the other soccer fans I had met. A cenote is a pool of water surrounded by limestone. They often have a deep coloration to them. Most often blue but the one we were visiting was emerald green. We had gone late on a summer day. While I was waiting for the others who had driven us out, twilight was falling. The jasmine was beginning to perfume the air. It was one of those perfect memories of leaning against a post breathing in the heady flowers and the watery pool just beneath them. D.S. & Durga Jazmin Yucatan took me back there.
David Seth (l.) and Kavi Ahuja Moltz
Kavi Ahuja and David Seth Moltz have also seemingly traveled to something similar. In the press release they mentioned this fragrance was inspired by their travels through Mexico. It came about as fashion brand Opening Ceremony asked them to produce a perfume to celebrate the brand’s “Year of Mexico”. To anyone who has spent some time walking through the jungles of Mexico I think Jazmin Yucatan will strum some chords of scent memory.
It opens with that sense of humidity that exists in the tropics. The air is saturated with water which finds a full-spectrum jasmine. This is an indole-laden jasmine. It is what you smell when you find the real thing. Mr. Moltz then adds two modulating ingredients which work well. First a layer of passionflower takes the floral component of jasmine and gives it some more oomph. Clove finds a spicy harmony with the indoles. What this captures is that slightly piquant scent of the earthy jungle floor. The humidity also turns waterier as the surface of the cenote becomes more present. The base accord captures the ever-present vegetation through vetiver and some other green notes. The final piece is copal resin as if a hint of an ancient Mayan ritual at the edge of the pool is breaking through.
Jazmin Yucatan has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.
This is a beautifully realized perfume of a jasmine in the tropical jungle. It is also different enough from most other jasmine perfumes that if you are a fan it is worth checking out. I adore it because it captures a cherished memory of twilight at the cenote.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by DS & Durga.
I’ve been open about my disdain for layering. If a perfume isn’t good enough to stand on its own it isn’t good. If it needs to have something else sprayed over the top of it, that exposes the flaws in the original composition. It is why I’ve never reviewed a “layering kit” because it seems like brand laziness. The last couple of years have seen a new version of this where a perfume is designed to be a companion piece to any other perfume. My objections to that are the same as above. Which is why when I received the press release in advance of a sample of D.S. & Durga Crystal Pistil I was dismayed.
David Seth Moltz (l.) and Kavi Ahuja Moltz
The brand owned by married couple by Kavi Ahuja Moltz (Durga) and David Seth Moltz (D.S.) is one of the most eclectic collections I know of. They have run the gamut from very odd to crowd pleaser. In all of them Mr. Moltz has approached his perfumes with a quirky aplomb. That is why when I read Crystal Pistil was meant to be a perfume to add to other perfumes, I was disappointed. I should have remembered Mr. Moltz has a different way of seeing that kind of endeavor. The best thing about Crystal Pistil once I had it in my hands is, I guess it can be layered. What I found was a gorgeously transparent perfume which stood all on its own.
My initial impression was a strong reminder of the Florida Water I grew up with in S. Florida. Mr. Moltz uses a very light amount of orange blossom which he keeps from floating away by pairing it with baie rose. The herbal aspects of that keep the orange blossom from dissipating. This leaves it out there for an equally airy jasmine to join it. Paradisone is used to give a powerful jasmine effect at the same time it is kept light. This is surprisingly balanced especially with an ingredient as portent as Paradisone. Based on the press release this is where I expected this to end. There was a surprise waiting with a slightly less opaque animalic base. Using Civettone, ambrette, and white musks, an expansive deep musk accord floats at just a slightly heavier level than the orange blossom and jasmine.
Crystal Pistil has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
For those of you who layer I’m happy if you find a perfume this works with. It would be like chocolate sauce from a bottle on top of an elegant souffle for me. This is such an exercise in delicacy I wouldn’t want anything to diminish that. Crystal Pistil is more than good enough to be admired for what it is.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample supplied by DS & Durga.
As perfumery moved into the 21st century there have been so many changes. One of the largest was the introduction of the Middle Eastern perfume ingredient oud into Western fragrance. For almost twenty years now this ingredient has been one of the most popular across all of perfumery. It is hard to pin down what makes it so popular. One reason might be how multi-faceted an ingredient it is. When in the hands of a skilled perfumer it can spring to life. Which is what happens in D.S. & Durga Notorious Oud.
Notorious Oud is supposed to be inspired by the late rapper Notorious BIG. But it can also easily stand on its own as oud has a notoriety for some of its rougher edges. Perfumer David Seth Moltz embraces all that fractious character by using an Indonesian oud as his keynote. By using a genuine source of oud it allows Mr. Moltz the opportunity to find complementary ingredients to display all that oud has to offer.
David Seth Moltz
One of the typical descriptions of oud is it has a “medicinal” or “band-aid” scent. As a someone who likes odd smells and regularly sniffs a bandage on my finger it is one of the reasons I like oud. Mr. Moltz uses a clever trio of camphor, galbanum, and saffron to make it more of that “band-aid” kind of accord in the early going. I enjoyed the way the camphor softened some of the edgier aspects of this part of the oud. As Notorious Oud develops into the heart it finds one of the typical partners of oud waiting, rose. This is a spicy Bulgarian rose and usually this is such a classical pairing there isn’t much more that is needed. Except Mr. Moltz adds enough lavender to lengthen the green thread begun by the galbanum in the top accord. That thread follows into the base as papyrus anchors it. Mr. Moltz then brackets the later development of the oud with animalic civet and the dry synthetic woodiness of Cetalox.
Notorious Oud has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.
Notorious Oud is for those who embrace oud in all its quirkiness. Mr. Moltz softens many of the sharper aspects, but they are still present. For me this is an oud which struck the right balance in its oddness and beauty.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample supplied by DS & Durga.
One of the most ancient forms of personal fragrance were the attars. Going as far back as the Egyptians it is in India where this style of fragrance was refined. In a clay pot rose petals were distilled directly into a receiver of sandalwood oil. This creates a richly opulent version of the flower being distilled. I’ve spent some time sourcing authentic attars from the Middle East and India in precious small vials containing some of my favorite simple scents. Some of the best versions are jasmine and oud or saffron and sandalwood. That is an attar; simple combination of two components floral and wood oil. There have been several attempts to transfer this process to a modern perfume by following this two-ingredient formula. What if a modern perfumer decided to go in the opposite direction? Not one flower but many flowers? Not just sandalwood but oud too? What about adding in a modern twist of musk? Then you get D.S. & Durga D.S.
David Seth and Kavi Moltz
I was fortunate to have the founders of D.S. & Durga in my neck of the woods on the weekend they released D.S. Kavi and David Seth Moltz have nurtured their brand to the point they have opened a stand alone store down in the part of Soho in New York City I call the “Perfume District”. D.S. is the perfume to celebrate that milestone as well as the counterpart to Durga; released two years ago. I had the chance to chat with Mr. Moltz as I was taking my first sniff of D.S. Just as I was forming the question, he beat me to it saying he was inspired by attars. The difference here is by broadening the amount of ingredients he has made an attar which develops instead of being linear. It is striking for that alone. Mr. Moltz has assembled a roster of traditional attar ingredients which swirl in lushly complex patterns.
What comes first is a combination of gardenia and lotus. The lotus adds a thread of watery floral up against the densely layered scent of gardenia. The sandalwood is here to hold the florals in place. What is my favorite transition in D.S. takes place next as saffron and a judiciously chosen amount of oud insert them selves into the previous ingredients. Saffron when used in a high-quality form glows in deep waves like the finest 24K gold. That it comes on the shoulders of slightly dirty oud provides the kind of contrast which I find compelling. Frangipani and vetiver round out the floral and woody list of notes. Once they are all in place Mr. Moltz has one final addition; musk ambrette. It gives a sparkle to the entire construct. From here D.S. is like a slowly moving olfactory mobile as the ingredients swing into view only to find themselves in the background minutes later. It is a fantastic effect.
D.S. has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sometimes when you’re inspired by the past you must have the courage to grab the future. Mr. Moltz has taken an ancient form of fragrance through the lens of modern independent perfumery. D.S. & Durga D.S. is a contemporary attar as well as the best perfume, to date, from D.S. & Durga.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.
Editor's Note: Even though I am calling this a "contemporary attar" and it is inspired by attars it is an eau de parfum.
If you’ve been following my reviews this year it has probably become obvious that I am struggling with the new trend of transparent perfumes. I understand why it is happening, but I keep wondering if it is not the type of perfume I can embrace. One reason is most of those perfumes, up until now, have been produced by the large brands. Only towards the end of the year have some of my favorite independent perfumers also begun to make perfume in this style. It is here where I expect to find perfumes I can connect with. Proof of this is D.S. & Durga Amber Kiso.
Perfumer David Seth Moltz released two new perfumes highlighting the “mythical material concept of amber”. I expected to find Amber Teutonic to be more to my taste because it is a fragrance which lives up to the adjective in its name. It is a cascade of woody green which pushed just beyond my level of enjoyment. Which made picking up Amber Kiso, as the antithesis of that, something I was ready for.
David Seth Moltz
Amber Kiso is described as a Japanese inspired perfume. Combining the leather armor of the samurai walking among the hinoki tree forest. It is fused with the scents of nature into something enticingly transparent.
Mr. Moltz opens with a green cedarwood accord. I enjoy this effect especially when used in the top notes. It reminds me of a freshly hewn piece of wood, there is a greener effect than normal cedar. This becomes an ideal partner for the metallic incense which moves through it all. It is like the sheen of the sword on the samurai’s back. As he walks through the forest, he releases a loamy earthy scent. Mr. Moltz constructs this of orris, patchouli, and maple wood. This is a fantastic accord as the rooty nature of orris is combined with the inherent earthiness of patchouli. That sounds like something which would be a strong accord. This is where Mr. Moltz shows me there is a transparent accord which doesn’t trade strength for lack of substance. This continues into the leather accord. It is a rawer leather type which usually means more presence. Mr. Moltz manages to offer a different effect. It is also kept withdrawn which allows the hinoki wood to provide a recapitulation of the rawer cedar in the top with a more refined version in the base.
Amber Kiso has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Amber Kiso showed me that there is a right kind of transparency which I can get behind.
Disclosure: this review is based on a sample from DS & Durga.
Those of you who read my The Sunday Magazine columns know how much I enjoyed the recent Twin Peaks: The Return. One of the reasons was giving an auteur like David Lynch the freedom to realize exactly the vision he had. It wasn’t for everyone. It was meant to challenge assumptions. It wasn’t ever meant to make you comfortable and there was no happy ending, but it was an earned ending. Mr. Lynch was also responsible for the sound editing and throughout the 18 episodes electricity hummed through high-tension wires, crackled and popped, and provided otherworldly illumination. It was perhaps the most consistent motif within the show.
Within days of the final episode I received my sample of D.S. & Durga Vio-Volta. With everything still swirling in my mind here was a perfume which could have leapt off the screen as David Seth Moltz creates an uncomfortable electric fragrance.
David Seth Moltz
Vio-Volta is the latest in a series of new releases which feel like modern art. This is also an auteur’s vision which means it is not a perfume for everyone. I had people I work with on the days I was wearing it ask me “what the hell are you wearing?”. I also found it to be a bit wearying to wear over a full day. I have spent more time with it in shorter time periods without fatigue. All of that as prelude Vio-Volta is every bit as good as Twin Peaks: The Return was.
Mr. Moltz claims Vio-Volta was him fooling around with new ingredients to evoke something purple. The two ingredients which are the keynotes are Violis which he describes as a “really weird candy rhubarb” and Amber Xtreme.
The opening is that odd version of rhubarb from Violis. There is an oddly metallic vibe which runs throughout the crystalline vegetal rhubarb. It reminded me of chewing on tin foil. Early on it is sort of fun then it begins to hurt. Before the hurt gets to be too much the Amber Xtreme crashes over the top with a woody tsunami. Once the Violis pops back to the surface it is joined by some less artificial ingredients as incense and patchouli become proverbial life preservers to cling to. Over time the violet nature of Violis become more prominent but that crackle of electricity thrums underneath all of it.
Vio-Volta has 24-hour longevity and above average sillage. Besides being confrontational it lasts forever and everyone around you will smell it.
It seems I have been writing this a lot recently but perfume like Vio-Volta is something that can only come from our independent perfume community. You might hate it. you might love it, you might appreciate it, you might admire it; but you should try it.
Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.
Tuberose is a wild beast of a fragrance ingredient. It can be so untamed with its overwhelming nature that many perfumers must go to great lengths to rein it in so it can be used without becoming too much. There is another technique in direct opposition to trying to tame it; jump on its back and try to ride it. That is what the new D.S. & Durga Durga does.
You might think the perfume is named after the nickname perfumer David Seth Moltz has given to his wife Kavi Moltz and which makes up the brand name with his first two initials. It turns out that this is instead more literal as they design a fragrance inspired by the Hindu Goddess Durga. She is a multi-limbed warrior goddess depicted riding on the back of a tiger brandishing a weapon form each of her multiple hands. Her keynote victory is over the Buffalo Demon. How this translates to the perfume bearing her name is that Mr. Moltz uses two fabulous sources of tuberose to which he piles on with most of the opulent floral materials in perfumery.
David Seth Moltz and Kavi Moltz
Mr. Moltz uses green tuberose as his opening note. Over the last couple of years, I have enjoyed seeing what different perfumers do with this version of tuberose where there is a more prominent green quality as well as making the camphoraceous heart of tuberose also stand out. The choice he makes to modulate this is a melon note in all its intense fruitiness. It is not an intuitive choice but it is one which I really took to and this is from someone who can find melon irritating. From here Mr. Moltz starts adding one floral note after the other. It starts with chrysanthemum freshening things up. Orange blossom takes the freshness and brings it back to white flower territory. A high percentage irone orris butter runs the danger of perhaps gilding the tuberose but it doesn’t. Ylang-ylang turns this creamy and lush. Then when most perfumers would try and cage the tiger Mr. Moltz drenches the base in tuberose absolute paired with jasmine sambac. This is a basso profundo finish as these two huge white flowers strut their indolic nature. Mr. Moltz accentuates the skanky quality with musk added in for that purpose.
Durga has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Outside of the melon, which works here, this is a collection of most of my favorite floral motes. Mr. Moltz does an impressive job at keeping all of this roaring at full speed but never flying off a cliff. If you are a fan of the white flower powerhouse perfumes Durga is a contemporary interpretation which succeeds by being unafraid to allow the tiger that is tuberose the opportunity to range freely.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by Twisted Lily.
As a boy we had a weekend place at the end of Key Largo. It was where my love of the ocean was kindled as I would spend days swimming in it; water skiing on top of it; and diving deep beneath it. After a day of being out on the water I would go spend the evening out on the dock with my transistor radio. Pointing the antenna across the Gulf of Mexico I would cautiously turn the AM dial searching for a signal. The radio was held close to one ear as my fingers feathered the controls until a voice would leap out of the speakers. I was connected to another part of the country. For as long as the signal lasted I got a peek into another city. Through those nights on the dock I listened to the goings on in Corpus Christi and Galveston, TX; Biloxi, MS; New Orleans, LA and courtesy of their huge signal St Louis, MO’s KMOX. As the radio would heat up there was a pleasant smell of hot metal and electronics which was surrounded by the smell of the night blooming flowers and the ocean lapping the pilings under the dock. I hadn’t thought of those nights in a long time until I received my samples of the newest D.S. & Durga perfumes. Radio Bombay reminded me of the smell of that transistor radio. Rose Atlantic brought me back to those flower-filled nights above the ocean.
David Seth Moltz and Kavi Ahuja Moltz
David Seth Moltz describes Radio Bombay as a “deconstructed sandalwood”. It is a sandalwood which is decayed like those faraway signals I was listening for into something less than its ideal self. It is an interesting idea when a perfumer chooses to find notes which chip away at the familiar in a way so that other aspects become more prominent.
Right in the very early moments of Radio Bombay you get the most pristine version of sandalwood. Over the next few hours that sandalwood will be changed by the other notes. Early on it is competing with a balsamic mixture pushing down the sweeter, creamier aspects in favor of the sharply woody ones. Next comes this metallic accord which Mr. Moltz calls copper but I would describe as warm undefined metal. It is that moment when my radio got very warm to my touch. Boronia adds a bit of the heated electronic vibe while also chiseling away at the sandalwood a little more. Iris powders things while cedar tries to reclaim the woodiness. At the very end the signal is lost into the ether until the next time I tune in.
Rose Atlantic is those moments in the night when I would look deep into the black water only to have the flowers scenting the air to ground me. Mr. Moltz uses some wonderful ingenuity in constructing his accord to represent the Atlantic. Many of the typical components are here but one, muscone, seals the deal. He has added enough that it provides that deep dark water accord the weight it deserves. On top of that water floats linden leaves, rose, lemon, and grass. It is an airy floral entwined with the green of the grass and linden leaves. A bit of moss later on provides a final thread of green. After the radio was shut off I would still sit on the dock enjoying the signal right in front of me; until the next night.
Radio Bombay has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage. Rose Atlantic has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
Along with these two scents there was a third White Peacock Lily which is also quite good. All of these were meant to debut the new packaging designed by Kavi Ahuja Moltz.
I know someone will ask if I layered the two to see if I could create a personal “Key Largo Signal”. I did and it didn’t work that well, there was a lot of static. As I learned so long ago once you find a clear signal stick with it for as long as it lasts. Radio Bombay and Rose Atlantic are rich signals to find while searching in the night.
Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by DS & Durga.
When I was at Pitti David Seth Moltz the perfumer behind D.S. & Durga handed me a preview of the next release. As we were spraying it on strips he told me the name was Debaser. There are times that something as simple as a name can tell you when two people share some common ground. I looked quizzically at him and said, “Is it named after….” Before I could complete the words Mr. Moltz finished for me, “Yeah, it’s named after The Pixies song.” Now there are many things which might inspire a perfume but this particular song would not be high up on anyone’s list, except Mr. Moltz’s.
David Seth Moltz
The Pixies were part of that late 1980’s wave of alternative rock bands. What set them apart were the lyrics of singer/guitarist Black Francis. The band covered a myriad of subjects but for the song “Debaser” Mr. Francis chose a particularly obscure bit of surrealism to sing about, the film Un Chien Andalou. That film was co-directed by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali. Over the running time of 21 minutes each chapter is a tableau separated by time-based title cards, like “sixteen years ago”. There is much to chew on for any fan of surrealism. The one thing most everyone speaks about is the opening scene which opens on a title card of “once upon a time”. In it a man sharpens a razor walks over to a woman holds her eye open and approaches her eyeball with a razor. After a cut to clouds moving across the moon in the night sky it returns to an eyeball being slit, not the woman’s but that of a dead calf. Mr. Francis was also fascinated by this imagery and one of the verses in the song is this:
Got me a movie
Ha ha ha ho
Slicing up eyeballs
Ha ha ha ho
He goes on to sing, “I am Un Chien Andalusia” purposefully mangling the name. As I said not the kind of stuff you would look for to make a perfume. Mr. Moltz is inspired nonetheless as he turns out an alternative version of a fig-based summer scent.
Simone Mareuil and a razor from "Un Chien Andalou"
Debaser opens on a very Morticia Addams pruning roses and placing the thorny stems back into vases vibe. Mr. Moltz plays with the idea of what is left of a fruity beginning if you remove the fruit. A green leafy accord and a pear stem accord are where things start. There are hints of what is growing but they have been excised from the scent via an olfactory straight razor. The heart starts to move into something more relatable as a rich fig arises through the stemmy top notes. Just as it seems this might normalize a veritable torrent of coconut milk arrives and swamps the fig. Just as I start to process that, iris appears. This is a weirdly satisfying, completely discordant, heart. These notes collide and recede for hours while wearing Debaser. It is definitely one of the more interesting heart note combinations I’ve tried so far this year. Debaser stays at this point for quite a while before taking a turn toward a dry woody finish that is almost too normal compared to what has come earlier.
Debaser has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Debaser is a fragrance which revels in its unusualness. I also think Mr. Moltz had a ton of fun composing this combining all of the competing elements into a perfume. This succeeds so well I think it is the best perfume in the entire D.S. & Durga line. I know I’ve emphasized the point that it is a bit weird. Debaser is different but if you are looking for a fig perfume which has a sly intelligence at play look no further than Debaser.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.
Brooklyn-based Independent perfume brand D.S. & Durga branched out in 2013 by producing the HYLNDS collection. The first four fragrances were evocations of the Highlands myths and folklore. The fifth release Foxglove continues that tradition as it is focused on the man who was considered the greatest poet of Ireland, Oisin. Perfumer David Seth Moltz was inspired by a visit to the gravesite. He says, “When I walked up to Oisin’s grave, I found one foxglove flower facing it 20 feet from the site. It was if Nieve was sitting watch over her lost love.”
One of the characteristics of the HYLNDS collection of perfumes is they all have a distinctive sense of place within their composition. When I smell all of these fragrances I feel very much aware of the inspiration surrounding me. Foxglove does a fantastic job of fusing the legend of Oisin with the idea of standing near his grave on a damp moor with a single bloom in front of you. Mr. Moltz has chosen a slightly vegetal citrus top. Champaca absolute centers the heart. Leather combined with immortelle makes up the base. It is a fragrance of open green spaces.
David Seth Moltz
Mr. Moltz uses citron peel, rosewood, and Queen Anne’s lace as his opening trio. One should always remember that Queen Anne’s lace is a member of the carrot family and as such while floral it also carries a significant vegetal quality. The citron is well-chosen contrast for that with the rosewood adding gentle woody aspects underneath it all. Champaca rises to the foreground next and it is buttressed with orris and neroli. The two supporting notes help the champaca from being overwhelming as they temper the more boisterous qualities of the absolute. We are standing near a grave and should show some respect. The base is my favorite part of Foxglove as Mr. Moltz starts with a smooth leather. This is the leather of a saddle ridden upon often, well-oiled, and taken care of. The leather accord has a wonderfully broken in feeling to it. The choice of immortelle is also a great decision and it blends well with the leather accord. The final two ingredients in the base are ambergris and peach. These shouldn’t be as good with the leather and immortelle as they are. Together this carries a hint of the sea, the dampness of the highlands, and the leather of a warrior poet. This last phase of Foxglove is what I look forward to whenever I wear it.
Foxglove has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
I really believe this HYLNDS collection is the best most cohesive set of fragrances D.S. & Durga has produced. I am not sure if Mr. Moltz is just especially inspired by the subject matter or if this is just the evolution of his skills as an independent perfumer. Foxglove is my favorite of the five and it is because of that leather and immortelle base as it conjures up its location as well as a perfume possibly can.
Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by D.S. & Durga.