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Retail Slut Makes Over LA’s Lethal Amounts

October 10, 2021


Before Melrose Avenue was “Melrose Avenue” there was Retail Slut. Helen O’Neill founded the iconic store in 1983 featuring a little bit of everything that you could find no where else. “Behind this wild and legendary shop was a female entrepreneur who was bold enough to give her business a provocative name and live by a “take no shit” business code of ethics that has inspired other female entrepreneurs and businesses ever since,” says show organizer Lethal Amounts.

Former Slut “Slaves” with founder Helen O’Neill at Retail Slut “opening” at Lethal Amounts in LA Sat. 10/9/21; photo by Gwendolyn Alley

Long revered and missed since it closed some 20 years ago, this October, Los Angeles Gallery Lethal Amounts collaborates with Retail Slut to take over and make over the gallery dressing it up as remembered by Retail Slut’s Helen O’Neill showcasing historic photos and releasing limited edition classic merch, reprinted for one-time only. “Retail Slut created a vibe that felt so special and Lethal Amounts has taken a page from that doctrine,” they say. 

Special limited edition mercy includes this classic Retail Slut reproduction t-shirt; photo courtesy Lethal Amounts

Why?
 

“For decades, Retail Slut was an epicenter of subculture to people of all different walks of life in Los Angeles.

“To shop at Retail Slut (or to gag over the babes working there) was a pilgrimage, a rite of passage, and a place to find yourself and other weirdos like you. Never has LA seen a store that managed to bring so many tribes together—the dandies, punks, glam rockers, ravers, goths, fetishists, gender-benders, and more—and make it feel like a home for all. The legends are many, from the beginnings of Slash’s iconic top hat, Rozz Williams working the counter as a slave, Kitten Natividad posing as the shop’s catalogue model, to Faster Pussycat’s Taime Downe and Wall of Voodoo/The Weirdos/Nervous Gender’s Bruce Moreland selling patrons their newest pair of fishnets,” explains Lethal Amounts.
 

Retail Slut’s Helen O’Neill pictured at the shop (photo from display case)

 
Helen O’Neill and I met during her Retail Slut days in the mid-1990s; she had a beach pad in Ventura and a store called Wild Planet (with Dora). At the time I had an art studio at Ventura’s Art City, and I organized two erotic poetry readings with fashion shows which featured designers that Retail Slut carried. I also performed erotic poetry at a Retail Slut event held at the Wiltern Theater, LA in 1996. We bonded over Burning Man and bicycles too, joining forces to bring monthly bike rides to Ventura where we dressed according to a theme and visited Ventura’s galleries during “First Fridays.”
 
Aside: A 2011 article on Burning Man’s growing pains in the NY Times quoted Helen as saying about Larry Harvey:  “I don’t care if he takes a quarter of a million. If it’s there, let him take it. There’s people who make $2 million a year and work for DuPont and all they do is pollute the planet,” said Helen O’Neill of Ventura, Calif. On matters of liquidation, she said: “It’s his baby and that’s his prerogative.”

JoDee and Maxwell from Retail Slut in the 80s; photo from display case

 
But I really didn’t know that much about Retail Slut before the event until I carpooled down to LA with two former Retail Slut “slaves” pictured back in the day above (photographed from a display case) and at the event below:
 

Maxwell, Helen, JoDee at the Retail Slut opening; tattoo artist behind them inscribes the willing with the logo; photo by Gwendolyn Alley

 
 
During the ride, I learned from Maxwell that Helen was hanging out with her UCSB buddy Maxwell when she developed the idea (Maxwell studied printing and painting and Helen did photography). She hatched the idea walking down Melrose on a visit to LA when she was living in Brighton and working in a pub. She saw a vacant shop and decided to open a consignment shop featuring local artists and designers.
 
From the first store to the fourth and final location and incarnation, Maxwell and Helen together did the red splatter paint job reproduced by Lethal Amounts– complete with paint on the floor, too. Maxwell said thy’d have to step carefully out and then they’d block the door and leave it to dry for a few days before moving in the merchandise for which they were famous. 
 

Reincarnated Retail Slut 2021

 
Retail Slut’s start up costs were funded by Helen’s savings from tips earned waitressing; she had $2000 to get started and her rent was only $600. Her parents were kept in the dark about her project and told the store was called RS which, Helen explained, stood for “Really Silly.” The store was well on its way to being an icon before her parents knew the name was actually Retail Slut. 
 
In the early days, Helen took trips to London to buy merchandise, staying there with JoDee, who, like Maxwell and I, grew up in Ventura just north of LA while Helen grew up in San Jose.
 
 

The resurrection of Retail Slut even included the original posters that Maxwell and others provided for the ceiling which in the original store was not fit to be seen.

 

Helen points out pictures and tells the stories behind them.

 

At the opening, it was fun to peruse the cases and see photos from of the years of Helen and staff, many of whom I call friends.  Good times and followed by a fun afterparty at the bar next door, Monty’s.

 

Helen at Monty’s

 

Congratulations, Helen!

 
 

Retail SLut exterior circa 2021

 
Go see the show! It’s free!
LETHAL AMOUNTS
1226 West 7th st Los Angeles CA 90017
COUNTER CULTURE ART GALLERY / CLOTHING / NIGHT LIFE PROMOTERS
www.lethalamounts.com/ 
If anything’s left, check their website to order.
 
UPDATE Stay tuned for details about a closing party with the Glen Meadmore Kuntry Band. 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
blah blah 
 
 
 
 
 

Lethal Amounts logo on a beanie; other merch available inspired by the style of Retail Slut.

 
 
 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cheryl Goldenbear permalink
    October 11, 2021 8:13 am

    Helen always stands for the full rainbow of life and embodies her causes. She’s electric and lights the path.

  2. October 11, 2021 8:41 am

    So true and so well said, Cheryl!

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