Tuesday, January 21, 2014

D.S. & Durga- Burning Barbershop

A couple of years ago I attended an industry event that was full of mainstream media people. These respected journalist, some of them very high profile (as in you'll probably recognize their names) had to get themselves acquainted quickly with quite a few fragrances from small, independent, and quite avant-garde perfume lines. It was interesting to watch.

I try hard not to forget that for the vast majority of the fragrance-wearing public a "perfume" has to smell a certain way. They don't want to smell anything disturbing or "not pretty" or not belonging in Macy's. And it's a legitimate stipulation. Perfume should smell good. It's the exact definition of good that we often disagree about, as I see intriguing, unusual, human, and quirky as good. But the various editors and reporters I met that day were not expecting to smell something burnt coming out of a perfume bottle. Their faces as they sprayed blotters with Burning Barbershop by Brooklyn-based D.S. & Durga said it all, and it was not good.
"A fire broke out in the Curling Bros. barbershop in Westlake, N.Y. in 1891. All the shaving tonics with their spearmint, lime, vanilla&lavender burned. A charred bottle was found half-full. It smelled like this."
Above is the description from D.S. & Durga 's website. They're quite literal about it. This is exactly what Burning Barbershop smells like. Is it a perfume? Not if you ask certain editors of glossy magazines, but I say yes. A burnt perfume, a classic fugere that was sacrificed to a perverse deity who likes its offering with a side of burnt rubber, left to cool down on an altar soaked in rainwater.

Burning Barbershop does not belong on a blotter. It makes little sense as your nostrils are assaulted with acrid notes, spilled old tea, and the cold and dirty air of the city in winter. But this is a perfume.It comes alive on skin where warm and cold get their true meanings. Everything is slightly charred in this D.S. & Durga perfume. The herbs- mostly mint and lavender were a bit dry to begin with and caught on fire quickly. The smoke wafts into the cold night sky, obscuring the stars and pervading your clothes and hair. It's a welcome warmth, and as it settles on skin there's actually a comforting smell of tea: herbal tea, Russian Caravan, even a touch of lemon verbena. Burning Barbershop becomes sweeter and cozier,  not as sooty as it appears at first. I find it not just wearable but pleasant and satisfying, and not quite as masculine as it appears at first sniff.

D.S. & Durga- Burning Barbershop ($106, 50ml) is available at Twisted Lily, Woodley & Bunny, and dsanddurga.com. The sample for this review was supplied by Twisted Lily.


  1. Wow, I really need to try this, as I love the smell of burning lavender. I have 8 lavender bushes lining the walkway to my front door, and I've long ago run out of ways to deal with the harvest, so I've started making bundles that I burn in the fireplace. They go up with a tremendous whoosh and fragrance.

  2. I love this. I truly believe in perfume as an art, as something that can be something other than a pretty flower scent. And that is maybe the best perfume blurb I ever read.

  3. Glad you are reminding me of D.S. & Durga. I love the now discontinued My Indian Childhood and need to sample their current offerings. The names and themes are always singular and evocative. I appreciate their pursuit of perfumes that smell different and wonderful. nozknoz

  4. What a wonderfully written review. You so perfectly expressed it with the question of how we define good. Had a neighbor over the other and one of our cats was sniffing at my wrist where I had on one of her favorite perfumes (Mandy's Tango), so we ended up talking about perfumes and I showed her my perfume collection (mistake). Not just the quantity of perfumes, but also all the different types (vintage, CdGs, CBIHPs, various uber skanky musks and on and on) I know left her convinced I was from some alien planet. She judges perfumes as good if other people judge them as good - for her they have to act as man magnets (recently divorced and entering the dating pool again, so for her this is really important) or they have to be pleasant and inoffensive for her co-workers. I get that. It's not me, but I understand. For me, though, it's all about choosing perfume like I choose art for our home - has to reflect what resonates most with me, strikes deep personal chords, has memory associations, etc. and that includes smoke, dirt, cumin, indolic notes, vintage, occasional powder overdoses, etc. as well as a fair number of wonderfully pretty perfumes that my neighbor agreed are pretty (and took some decants of - yay!).
    Anyway, haven't tried Burning Barbershop yet (what a great name!), but need to. Am guessing my neighbor won't be wanting a decant.


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