D.S. & Durga on Selling the Scent of Steamed Rainbows

Perfumery's weird kids are getting weirder.

D.S. & Durga might not be a household name, but ask anyone who takes their scent seriously and they'll know it well. Founders David Seth Moltz (the DS) and Kavi Ahuja (she's the Durga) are acclaimed for creating men's fragrances that sit firmly in the niche realm, and have more than a handful of cult-status colognes already in their growing roster.

While fan favorites such as Debaser (coconut-laced fig) and Mississippi Medicine (big, bold woods) are unusual yet easily wearable, the brand's recent releases are becoming incrementally stranger—and in today's oversaturated market, this is a very clever move.

As the brand's nose, Moltz is self-taught—a rare thing in the tightly traditional, closed-door world of perfumery. But as he explains, there are advantages to taking the lesser-trodden route: "I think about perfume in a novel way," he says. "I am very comfortable making realistic copies of real-world objects & places and weaving them into a narrative. I don't feel constricted at all about what perfume is or how to make one."

D.S. & Durga Steamed Rainbow


Indeed, you won't find D.S & Durga ticking off the obvious aromas from rose and citrus to woods and vanilla. To date, Moltz has launched olfactory odes to pasta water (in collaboration with New York carbohydrate-peddlers Jupiter) the Amazonian jungle, and Pixies frontman Black Francis. Clearly, finding inspiration isn't a challenge here: "I have a list of a million ideas and names and work on them all the time," he says. "When they are ready they can join the line somewhere."


Speaking of ideas, the brand's latest launch is one of its most obscure yet. Steamed Rainbows can't be stuffed into any of the usual fragrance boxes: it's neither obviously floral nor comfortingly woodsy, and doesn't smell like an Amalfi lemon or Grasse rose. But somehow, this olfactory oddity makes perfect sense. "I've always wondered what a rainbow would smell like if you could mosey on up to one," says Moltz. "I bet it would be colourful, silvery, and steamy." Indeed, this is an accurate description of Steamed Rainbows: it's fresh, gently orangey and just aquatic enough to smell kind of misty, like running through wet grass. In short, it's the perfect summer fragrance for those who don't want to smell like everyone else.

You'd think concocting a fragrance to represent something that can't be sniffed would be challenging enough, but that's not where the brand stopped. Moltz wanted to work with his synesthesia—a neurological phenomenon that causes a crossover in certain senses—and include ingredients that match every colour in a rainbow: 'I took one that smells red, orange, yellow, etc, and put them in a beaker," he says, "Then I softened and worked it into something that smelled like all the colours melting into each other in the soft humid air." This is not the kind of gonzo behaviour you'll find in any of the big fragrance houses—but it's exactly what has made D.S & Durga a niche kingpin.

It's fair to say not all of the brand's olfactory experiments have been a success—Moltz is happy to confirm there are many that have failed to make it onto the shelves. "But the trick is to keep working until something becomes wearable," he says."I have many many awful failures around the office—I have a terrible smoke one. Some of these you modify until they become great." And the ones that can't be salvaged? Apparently, the scent of anger remains tightly bottled at the back of a shelf somewhere at D.S towers—presumably, that one will be harder to market than the optimism of rainbows.

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FromEsquire UK

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Roberta Schroeder
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