Kerosene perfumer John Pegg talks Blackmail, Summer of 84 and Winter of 99.

In June of 2023, and real-life moment we'd all been waiting for, Detroit-area indie fragrance house Kerosene released three of their previously exclusive fragrances into the wild — and we were lying in wait, ready to pounce. For this exciting release, we checked in with perfumer John Pegg to ask a few quick questions about  BlackmailSummer of 84 and Winter of 99...

Q. We're so excited that the previously exclusive Blackmail, Winter of 99 and Summer of 84 are now available as permanent members of your collection! How did you decide on this change?

A. Blackmail resulted as an exclusive for a creative boutique in Austin, Texas. Sadly, a few years ago the shop had to close and they kindly gave us permission to continue to sell the fragrance. We didn't know exactly how to handle the exclusive... It's a special fragrance and we wanted to show that it was special for as long as possible.

Also during this time, I had the idea to create four scents as a theme based upon the four seasons. That was the genesis for Summer of 84 and Winter of 99. However, Michigan only really has two seasons! So I stopped at those two scents and the full project never came to be. And honestly, I was quite content only having those two for the project. [Previously sold only direct from Kerosene].

Ultimately, it came to a time that exclusivity for scents in particular shops didn't feel right. And it complicates things as people are looking for certain scents and then not finding what they are looking for solely dependent upon where they are. So I made the decision to end the exclusives and make the whole line available for all.

Q. Was the process of creating the Blackmail formula different, given it was a collaboration with a boutique?

A. The process for creating Blackmail was really no different than my other creations. The owners at Blackmail Boutique gave me some ideas of what notes they liked and I ran with it. After a few trials the final recipe was a winner. There's a mood with that fragrance when I smell it in the air. It's sweet and dark. It's definitely one of my personal favorites that I like to smell on my bride.

The shop owners initially had a very...umm, interesting name for the fragrance that I simply wasn't okay with. Let's just say, I'm not as edgy of a guy as Tom Ford is! I find sexual innuendo tired and boring. The original name for Blackmail will be buried with me six feet deep!

Q. What is your most impactful memory from the winter of 1999 and how did it influence the composition of the perfume?

A. Shoveling! And the days before owning a snow-blower! The idea was, what was the worst winter that I could remember? And what is the healing balm for shoveling snow against the blustering wind from such a bitter storm? For me, the answer is warm spices and hints of sweetness. The scent goes perfectly with a sweater and a rolling fire – inside or outside.

Q. And from the summer of 1984?

A. This scent was born from the idea of a perfect, sunny day. Fresh fruit, fresh flowers, and fresh air. If it's hot out, it's tough to beat the fresh zing of citrus. The summers here in Michigan can get a bit muggy, probably because of the big lakes? I know people from Louisiana will scoff at what I consider muggy but I'm not a fan of the sticky kind of heat – at all!

So Summer of 84 is a weapon against that kind of heat — there's nothing heavy in the fragrance, although it's not particularly super light either. But it is definitely fresh and I think I met my goal. Sorry Autumn and Spring. You don't exist.

Q. Okay, Followed has become a monster hit and we can barely keep it in stock no matter how much we order. What do you attribute this to?

A. The response to Followed has been crazy! I honestly wasn't expecting the success so quickly. I suppose it was the same with Unknown Pleasures. That is probably the scent I'm mostly known for. A scent is created and I do the best I can with the materials I have and the fragrance is released into the world. What happens from there, happens from there.

Some scents do very well, and others are not on the same level. I try really hard at making a fragrance without the thought that it'll be popular with the masses. I see cherry notes are a big thing right now. I have absolutely no desire to create something with a cherry note. 

Followed happened to be one of those magic-moments kinda thing. Like how Sweet Child 'O Mine was written in 5 minutes because Slash was goofing around on his guitar with a melody with no intention of writing a song.

I enjoy working with coffee notes and thought what would it be like if I made a sweet, coffee fragrance - the complete opposite of Follow, which is dark roasty bitterness. And from that thought, simply having fun in my mixing chamber, Followed came to be.

It was really a scent created for my enjoyment but it smelled too good to keep to myself! Also, the scent is a behemoth of fragrance! Although most of my creations have good longevity, Followed is in another dimension all alone.

Q. We think you're one of the most talented perfumers out there; it's rewarding to represent your work. Any clues about what's coming next?

A. Well, thank you for that! That's very kind of you to say. I appreciate all of you at Ministry of Scent for all the love you've shown me from the very beginning!

I'm always experimenting with new ideas but nothing concrete is in the works at the moment. I've been enjoying mixing some rose combinations. And the collection lacks a true musk scent. It's going to be some time before a new Kerosene is ready! All I can say is that the next release won't be a cherry scent, rather it might be closer to a 70's musk monstrosity!

Thanks John, we can't wait to see how Kerosene does the 1970s. And a next-day update from John:

"We went to see The Cure on Tuesday! They have always been my favorite band and it was a bucketlist thing to see Robert Smith and Simon Gallop perform. Great show! And my wife wore Blackmail to the show and the scent was a perfect match! haha"

Explore the Kerosene collection.