If you can count on Todd Snyder for one thing, it’s a deep cut reference. The prolific menswear designer is like a walking fashion encyclopedia, so when it came time to develop his first signature fragrance, of course it had to come with a story. And no one in perfumery knows how to create an olfactory story better than David Seth Moltz, co-founder of in-the-know fragrance house D.S. & Durga. Luckily, the two had already been friends and retail partners for years, so when the time came to finally collaborate, it was a no-brainer.
The jumping-off point for Synder was one of his all-time favorite colognes: Armani Eau Pour Homme, which debuted in 1984 and became one of the most iconic scents of the 1980s and early ’90s (which, coincidentally, was when Snyder moved to New York City to start his career in fashion). The dark, masculine citrus scents of the period were well known to Moltz, who sought to update the idea for a modern audience. “We tried to recreate that Mediterranean feeling with botanicals from the East Coast,” he says, after he and Snyder bonded over their shared love of Long Island beaches.
The result is Young Dunes, a fresh, earthy scent that’s softly masculine with just a hint of nostalgia, like wearing a power suit that’s been recut into loungewear. When I first spray it on my skin, the top notes of citrus, verbena, and wooly beachheather bite my nose with a crisp, almost aftershave-like quality before herbal notes of sage and sea lavender slowly reveal themselves. But the dry down is where it’s at: an earthy, sexy vibration of suede, musk, and dune grass. It’s a confident scent that doesn’t announce itself, but still simmers with energy. And it perfectly captures the Todd Snyder ethos.
Creating a cologne is never an easy task, but to hear Snyder and Moltz tell it, developing the Young Dunes (available January 26 on toddsnyder.com) was as easy as taking a stroll down memory lane. Esquire sat down with the pair to discuss what drove them, the story behind Young Dunes, and what’s next for this collab made in (fragrance) heaven.
Esquire: How did the two of you meet?
Todd Snyder: I remember we first met at Project [a trade show]. You were in a suit. But then we met again at my office.
David Seth Moltz: The first time I went to your office, I had not planned to go there. I got a call asking if I could stop by and I was in the area. It was like July and was so hot out. I was wearing ugly shorts and a T-shirt. Nowadays that would be fine, but back then, we were all wearing suits. It was that whole thing. So I walk in like a total dipshit. You were in your office with the door closed. The door opens up and it’s Nick Wooster, who I had never met, who was the icon of the day. I’m just sitting there like a total douchebag. You were like, “This is Dave. He has a perfume line.” I’m like, “Oh, nice to meet you,” looking like I just went to the gym. It was so embarrassing.
TS: I loved your scents back then. Then fast forward, I think I was at Barney’s and you guys changed your packaging. I was just opening up my first store. And I’m like, “I need… I want this in my store.”
Do you have a similar philosophy when it comes to design?
DSM: There are two kinds of artists. One artist is like, “I make what I want. I don’t care what people think.” The other one is like, “I want to make something for everyone.” And it’s not an easy thing to do. Most people don’t want to be like that. I’m definitely an artist who wants to have something for everyone. I want our line to have this breadth, so that when someone walks in, no matter if it’s my mom or your grandpa, there is something for them. And I really think of it like that.
TS: What’s interesting about you is you guys have a somewhat unorthodox way of presenting yourselves, and not only in stores; even the marketing is always a little bit… It makes you think. You know what I mean? It’s very edgy, but it also is very real in a way.
It sounds like you have similar design philosophies but you’re also just fans of each other.
TS: Your scents, they just come from a different place. Cowboy Grass is my favorite, aside from Young Dunes.
DSM: They’re in the same kind of category, actually.
TS: Are they?
DSM: They’re both aromatic. They’re herbal with citrus.
How did this collaboration finally come about?
TS: We’ve been talking about it for 10 years. When I opened the store, the one missing sense element was smell. That was so important to me.
DSM: We talked about doing an exclusive for a long time and just the ebb didn’t flow until it was like, “We’ve got to do this.”
What was it like working together?
DSM: Easy as fuck.
TS: It was very easy. I had always thought, in my head, I wanted this ’80s, coastal feel because growing up in the Midwest, it basically smells like manure. Cow shit and all. But there’s something that’s also great about the Midwest. It’s just nature and grass and a lot of corn and a lot of soybeans. There’s always something growing. There’s just fields everywhere. So I always like those scents and I like that juxtaposition with the East Coast and what gets me going here. I told him, “I like this idea.” And then he took it.
DSM: There’s nothing I know of better in spirit and fragrance than the coast. I am from a town on the ocean north of Boston. I love the East Coast, all the plants that are growing on the beach. I had recently been doing a study of all these beach plants, and Todd’s like, “I just love the dunes out there.”
TS: Being creative, you kind of understand other people’s process and respect it. I’m not going to tell you what to do. I’m going to give you everything that I love. And then you go to town. And I remember David sent four scents back and I loved them all. I was like shit, which one are we going to do? I still wear them all.
DSM: Do you really? That’s awesome.
TS: It’s almost like you’re kind of going into a therapist in a way, and you’re telling him, “Here’s everything I love, here’s blah blah blah.” There is something with scent that I feel is part of you and it does feel like it’s attached.
DSM: Oh, for sure. It’s like wearing a mood.
Did you ever discuss specific notes?
DSM: He sent me a few things. So I did want to nod to the early ’90s, New York, citrus, masculine, herbal. There was a darkness to those citrus fragrances in the ’90s. Because fragrancess change so much, now, when we think of citrus, we think of light and fresh and airy. But a citrus back then had darker, herbal notes and some musks that have a sort of hairspray-ish scent to them. It’s very like Todd moving to New York in the early ’90s. It’s so tricky to talk about masculine and feminine in fragrance, but this is really referencing what was considered masculine back then.
TS: The scent was so easy. I mean, it was easy for me because I just told David, “Here’s what I like,” and we referenced a lot of it. Like how I started and got into the industry in the ’90s. I was in my twenties and that’s where it all began for me. It’s funny, we all remember our twenties as our defining moment.
I’m wearing it right now and it definitely drives that freshness, but then it dries down into something kind of earthy.
DSM: On you, it smells like manly moss.
TS: Well, that’s where the play on words, Young Dunes, plays into it.
Speaking of the name…
TS: The hardest thing was the name.
DSM: But remember, it was the first one we came up with.
TS: It was, you’re totally right. Young Dunes, it kind of says everything and it is a little bit abstract in a way, where it’s like, “Young Dunes, what does that mean?” But then when you hear the narrative behind it, you’re like, oh, duh.
DSM: The thing is, out there [on Long Island], they really are technically, geologically young dunes. They’re not the ones in the desert that have been there for years. They’re constantly being molded and changed by the ocean. We both love the ocean out there and those plants that grow on the dunes. The beach and the coast have this forever youthful spirit of the sun and the revivifying ocean. And you have these young dunes that harbor these young plants, that bring these beautiful animals, that bring us to this beach.
There is literally more ozone in the air by the coast and it heals you. So this love of the beach and the coast and what that smells like, you have the citrus stand in for the sunlight, you have the oceanic smells. And you have these plants that have quite strong smells to themselves because they’re sitting there being beaten by this hot sun and waves and wind all the time. So, in the spring there’s all these really fragrant herbal smells. I had to rebuild that.
When I think of Todd Snyder, there is a youthful spirit. There’s always the magic to what people in their twenties are doing, no matter what art form. I think that there is that spirit in there as well, just like the young dunes.
Is this the first of many fragrances together?
TS: I don’t like to be too presumptuous, but I would do whatever he wants me to do. I’m hoping for a candle for sure. We’ve been talking about trying to figure out how to get the TS smell into our stores. That’s the thing I love when you go into Japanese stores, especially the really good ones. There’s always a smell.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Garrett Munce writes about men’s style and grooming. He’s written for Esquire, New York Magazine, Spotlyte, and Very Good Light and held staff positions at GQ and W. Follow his skincare obsession on Instagram at @garrettmunce.