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News / Life / Clark County Life

Former rock star pours soul into Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie in downtown Vancouver

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian Managing Editor for Content
Published: June 6, 2021, 6:02am
8 Photos
The antique bar at Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie in downtown Vancouver is lined with various trinkets and bottles. Few of the store's loyal shoppers know that owner Mara Fox used to be a guitarist in the rock band Precious Metal, which was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine.
The antique bar at Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie in downtown Vancouver is lined with various trinkets and bottles. Few of the store's loyal shoppers know that owner Mara Fox used to be a guitarist in the rock band Precious Metal, which was recognized by Rolling Stone magazine. (Joshua Hart/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Mara Fox opened her curio shop in downtown Vancouver almost seven years ago, she closed the door on her past.

She used to perform for thousands as a guitarist for Precious Metal. Now she performs for one or two people at a time with a magic trick or a palm reading in her shop, Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie.

“I kind of hold court in my little store and pontificate. People listen to what I say when I go on talking about crystals and the psychology of fragrance,” she said.

Most of her store’s loyal customers don’t know she was, as she puts it, “a marginal rock star.” Rolling Stone placed Precious Metal’s 1985 “Right Here, Right Now” on its list of the “50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums of All Time.” Fox doesn’t even play guitar anymore.

“Playing music is like heroin to me. I am so deeply addicted and love it so much that if I start playing music, it’s the only thing I can do,” Fox said. “I have to deny myself music so I can move on with my life.”

Fox focuses on her business and her seven cats. (“I am a full-on crazy cat lady,” she said.) She said she suffered stage fright as a musician, and is wary of attention. She didn’t want to be photographed for this story.

“I want people who were Precious Metal fans in love with the image of me as a 24-year-old to have that,” said Fox, now 57. “I haven’t been in the music industry for 15-plus years. My focus isn’t, ‘Do I look sexy in this outfit.’ I’m just not interested in that game anymore.”

Girl with a dream

Fox was born Mara Fuchs in Jersey City, N.J. Her mother was a Wall Street bond trader; her father practiced law. When her parents divorced, her father raised her.

As a young girl growing up in greater New York City, Fox dreamed of forming an all-female rock band. She was already planning for future fame by using the English translation of her German last name.

She begged for a guitar, and when she was 8, she got one — a classical one with nylon strings.

“I realized I couldn’t play the songs I wanted to play,” she said. “It was the wrong instrument for the job.”

She listened to her dad’s record collection, which included The Beatles, Yes, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond and “a lot of Irish and Scottish folk music,” Fox said.

For her 11th birthday, her father gave her a Bay City Rollers album, one of the first records of her own.

“I was out-of-my-mind mad about it,” she said.

Soon posters of the all-boy band from Scotland covered every surface of her bedroom.

To raise money for instruments, Fox started working at 11. She snagged a job at a hardware store for half minimum wage, what underage workers were paid back then. It was the first of series of odd jobs — “anything I had to do to get my hands on musical equipment,” she said.

She scraped together $150 for her first electric guitar. She needed someone to jam with, so she hustled to make more money to buy another guitar for her friend.

Her passion for music fueled her through to graduation.

“I can’t tell you how much I hated school,” she said. “I had it in my head that if I couldn’t finish high school, I would be giving myself permission to not finish things my whole life. I made sure I graduated high school. Then I booked it to California.”

Big break

Fox gained admission to the Guitar Institute of Technology (which later became part of the Musicians Institute) in Los Angeles. Before she could even complete the yearlong guitar course, she landed her first record deal at 19.

In October 1983, she answered a classified ad placed by drummer Susette Andres. By February 1984, they added bassist Alex Rylance, vocalist Leslie Knauer and guitarist Janet Robin to officially form Precious Metal. They played clubs around L.A., building a small but dedicated fan base.

“We were incredibly disciplined in an era when a lot of drugs and partying were going on, and we were all very good musicians. … We didn’t waste money or time. We rehearsed three days a week even when we weren’t gigging,” she said. “We were taking this lethally seriously because we had to be twice as good to get half the amount of respect.”

The buzz reached Southern California rock station KROQ .

“The DJ said on the radio, ‘If anyone knows Precious Metal, get them to send a tape,’” Fox said.

The band sent its demo “Girls Night Out.” When the song aired, the president of PolyGram Records happened to hear it.

Precious Metal nabbed a record deal and released “Right Here, Right Now” in 1985. (Andres left the band just before, with Carol “Control” Duckworth taking over on the drums.) The band released “That Kind of Girl” in 1988, and “Precious Metal” in 1990.

The band was born in MTV’s heyday, which meant music videos were obligatory. For a cover of “Mr. Big Stuff,” Precious Metal brokered a deal to pay $10,000 to Donald Trump’s charity for the real-estate tycoon to appear in the video. The band could only afford to send Knauer and Robin to New York for filming, Fox recalled, and they bunked at her mother’s place. At the last minute, Trump demanded $250,000. The band couldn’t meet that figure, so instead edited his face out of the final video. (Several media outlets revived this story during Trump’s campaign for president in 2016 and 2020.)

Precious Metal toured North America, mostly playing venues for 2,500 or so fans. In 1986, Precious Metal played for its biggest audience yet — 250,000 concertgoers at the Festival de la Amistad en Acapulco, which featured hard rockers King Kobra and other bands. Fox will never forget the rush.

“We played for an ocean of people,” Fox said. “There’s a transfer of energy from an audience to a performer. It literally makes you high.”

(She notes that she never used actual drugs. When she was a teen, she saw older musicians “get sloppy drunk and high,” and thought, “God forbid I ever do that.”)

Precious Metal called it quits in 1992 as heavy metal declined in popularity. Fox blames MTV for changing its emphasis to rap and hip-hop. As a result, she said, a lot of heavy metal musicians left the genre behind.

“The band lasted longer than most marriages, including mine,” said Fox, who was married for a year and a half in the 1990s.

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She said she’s proud of her time with Precious Metal.

“Music is a male-dominated industry — very difficult to navigate. You were expected to be cute and sexy. We played that game and were afforded certain opportunities,” she said. “When we were on the road, we could play any bar in the country and sell out because ‘Holy s—, an all-female band from Hollywood!’ We got the benefit from that end of it. From the other end, we were constantly being pushed down and squashed by the powers that be in the industry.”

‘Flushing money’

Even as she played guitar, Fox maintained a side business that evolved into Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie, selling fragrances, crystal jewelry and wands on Venice Beach.

“In the music industry, you’re either filthy rich or dead broke. We never made it out of the dead-broke category,” she said.

She founded a co-op with other street vendors in 1986. In 1995, she took her perfume business online. And in 1997, she launched Rocket City Records.

At its height, the label had 125 musicians and worked to get their music on movie soundtracks. Studios, however, were also buying up music rights, which ate into Rocket City’s business. She left that venture behind in about 2007, she said.

Fox decided to leave music entirely. A dispute over the name “Love Potion” served as the wake-up call. She trademarked the name for her perfume in 1994. In 2004, Jessica Simpson Dessert Beauty started marketing a “deliciously kissable love potion fragrance.” Fox noticed her online sales drop precipitously. Fox sued, and Dessert Beauty countersued. The court upheld Fox’s trademark but determined that the other company could still use the term “love potion” as a descriptor.

The Dessert Beauty line was ultimately discontinued, but the ordeal cost Fox six years and $250,000 in legal fees.

“I decided if I didn’t keep pouring money into the sinkhole of music, I could have a pretty nice life in perfume,” she said.

Big move

By the 2010s, Fox was growing increasingly miserable living in Southern California with its heat, smog and high costs. She also didn’t like the region’s fixation on status and celebrity.

“When I was in Hollywood, I would get stopped in the supermarket. Everyone feels like they own you, and get to talk to you, touch you, get a picture — without even asking,” she said. Strangers who were fans of Precious Metal would show up on her doorstep.

A realization dawned on her: “If I’m not actively in the music industry anymore, I don’t have to live here.”

She reflected on all the places she had visited while touring with Precious Metal and started plotting a move to Portland. As she looked around, she decided she liked Vancouver better.

She and two other families involved with Love Potion Magickal Perfumerie moved here. She said, “Let’s just pretend we’re in witness protection.”

Fox planned to sell perfume online and as a vendor at Portland Saturday Market, but thought, “I’m just hitting 50 years old. Do I really want to be setting up a tent in the rain on Saturdays at 6 a.m.?”

She searched for retail space, ultimately establishing her shop at Main and Seventh streets in downtown Vancouver. She moved the store to 11th and Main and sunk her retirement savings into renovations just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything in March 2020.

Fox secured money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but her no-debt approach helped her business too.

“Our accounts might be down depressingly low, but we don’t owe anyone any money. We’re not in trouble,” she said. “We’re making less than we will, but we’re 100 percent confident we’re going to bounce back from this.”

Fox brews fragrances herself: Love Potion, Adam’s Nectar, Gossamer Threads, La Femme Noir and others, with prices ranging up to $39 for the Pherotine 2021 set on Etsy. In addition to perfume, the Main Street shop has an eclectic inventory of books, jewelry and curios. On a recent Saturday, the shop was bustling as one customer received a Tarot reading, and others asked staff about the properties of certain crystals. The store carries both Gandalf’s pipe from “Lord of the Rings” and the Sword of Gryffindor from the Harry Potter series.

“We have an all-ages base of people who absolutely love our shop — who wanted a community hub for people who are both spiritually minded and nerdy minded,” Fox said.

The store consumes her, just as music did before.

“I’m still working 16 hours a day. I’d like to get to where I could work like a normal person and tend to my garden,” she said. “I would love to have the time to grow things outside.”