Germaphobes, Rejoice: This Hand Sanitizer Smells Like Big Sur After Rain

Brooklyn-based perfume company D.S. & Durga turned one of its most popular scents into a hand sanitizer to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germaphobes, Rejoice: This Hand Sanitizer Smells Like Big Sur After Rain

Big Sur After Rain started as a candle scent two years ago.

Courtesy of D.S. & Durga; illustration by Supriya Kalidas

Several years ago, David Seth Moltz was driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Santa Barbara with his wife, Kavi, and their two kids, when he pulled off the road to walk through a eucalyptus grove. New growth stuck out from trees in long green spears, covered with a sheen of fresh rain, and russet underbrush crunched underfoot. Coastal fog was crawling in from Salinas, carrying with it the scent of the ocean. All of it would serve as a nice travel memory, for most, and end there. But for David and Kavi, who make up the Brooklyn-based perfume house D.S. & Durga, it was the genesis of a new scent: Big Sur After Rain.

Fast-forward two years, and Big Sur After Rain—which started as a candle—is being made as a spray hand sanitizer and sent to hospitals around New York City. For the company, which was founded in 2007, Moltz says lending a hand during the COVID-19 pandemic was a given.

“The decision [to make a hand sanitizer] was made super early on. It was asking, ‘How can we help? What do we have on hand?’” says Moltz, who is the “nose” of D.S. & Durga. (Kavi is the architect, designing everything from typeface to bottle to packaging.)

Though D.S. & Durga uses a third-party to produce its products, it sent bottles the company usually fills with lotions and perfumes to its manufacturer in the Bronx, which, Moltz says, “changed 100 percent right away to only making hand sanitizer.”

Since D.S. & Durga began producing hand sanitizer in March, it has donated hundreds of 8-ounce units to hospitals and health-care professionals in the region: Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, the Floating Hospital, paramedics with the Fire Department of New York, nurses in Rhode Island. It is also in talks to donate gel sanitizer to New York City but has been set back by a lack of supplies. (For interested buyers, the hand sanitizer is currently available for purchase on D.S. & Durga’s website.)

Though the company doesn’t have plans to turn any other scent into hand sanitizer for the time being, D.S. & Durga’s signature scents allow you to conjure up a number of “places” with the flick of a lighter, the spritz of a bottle, or opening a bottle: the winding roads above the Mediterranean thanks to its Italian Citrus perfume; the tuberose and gardenias of India during Diwali via its Rama Won’t You Please Come Home candle; the transcendental woods of 1800s Massachusetts in the form of its Bowmakers Body Wash.

These days especially, Moltz says scent—in the context of helping us remember places—should be celebrated. Not surprising, perhaps, for a company whose tagline is “perfume is armchair travel.”

“For me these days, when the whole world can feel flipped upside-down, it’s the little things,” he says. “It’s going on little journeys in your head.”

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>> Next: Making Scents of It All in France’s Perfume Country

Katherine LaGrave is a deputy editor at Afar focused on features and essays.
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