An acclaimed poet notorious for her wild sex parties, Rachel Rabbit White used to be one of the highest-paid escorts in New York City. She has since left sex work — and New York — to live with her fiancé, Cherry author Nico Walker, in Oxford, Mississippi. This year, Rabbit White released a new edition of her debut poetry collection, Porn Carnival, with a bonus insert of new love poems inspired by her romance with Walker. The following interview was told to Rachel Krause and has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s the middle of a snowstorm in Mississippi when Nico and I get the offer to go to Los Angeles. There’s the digital premiere for Cherry, the Hollywood adaptation of the novel he wrote while in prison, and opportunities for press. Nico isn’t sure; he’s publicly expressed that he won’t watch the movie. I get it, but as a poet, what I regard as the lowest depth of misery is to be driven by certainty rather than beauty.
I officially moved to Mississippi in December to be with Nico. His court supervision makes it so that he can’t go north of Jackson without permission from a parole officer, and until the snowstorm shut down the town for an entire week, I’d barely noticed, cocooned in a honeymoon glow. But on day three of being out of cat litter, down to one can of chickpeas in the pantry, I am ready for a change.
I march into Nico’s office. “Come, have a seat,” he says, moving pages of a manuscript from the sofa, kicking pages from the floor, the only copies that exist because he writes on a typewriter.
“We should go to L.A.,” I say matter of factly, ready to follow up with a speech, something about glamour and opting for adventure whenever possible, but he just says, “Okay.” I make appointments to get vaccinated (being a smoker has its merits), and weeks later, the state of California approves my fiancé for entry.
Always take two days to pack. I learned this in my previous career as a New York City escort, touring, doing “fly me to you” appointments and paid “vacations.”
“You can learn a lot from traveling with a ‘VIP companion,’” I say, somewhat jokingly, to Nico. I learned from the best: girls whose bios simply read “globetrotter” or “international It-girl.” These are the women who taught me everything I know about beauty and hustling.
Pack wardrobe the first day. On the second, pack skin care, hair products, toiletries, essentials. Never go anywhere without a hand steamer or a Bluetooth speaker. On the morning of the flight, do a full face of makeup, tossing each item into your cosmetic case as you go; that way you don’t forget anything.
People have nothing to do at the airport but sit around and look at each other, which is why I believe in traveling in style. Wear heels so as to save room in the suitcase. A girl really only needs to own three pairs of shoes: black platform heels, nude platform heels, and white leather boots.
Opt for the aisle seat so that you can drink as much Evian as you want and not worry about bothering a seatmate. Travel dehydrates. No matter how polished one looks entering the airport, a plane dishevels.
Upon landing, find a bathroom near the baggage carousel. In my carryon I keep makeup, a hairbrush, mini deodorant, baby wipes, and a roll-on perfume. (I’ve recently discovered the “designer imposter” roll-ons at the Walgreens check-out; the Prada Candy and Mugler Angel dupes aren’t bad.) The routine is a hold-over from those “fly me to you” appointments. Regardless, it is a mood boost.
The car rental place lost our reservation but eventually we get the Camaro convertible Nico meant to book. I have visions of us at the Chateau Marmont, chiffon scarf trailing with the top down along Sunset Boulevard, laughing maniacally at the Cherry billboard.
I hardly ever wash my face before bed. I have my reasons: 1) I’m always staying up late waiting for something to happen. 2) I want to have sex with my lashes still on.
When I do wash my face, I use Tatcha Rice Polish. I do an oil cleanse to get any lingering eyelash glue off with L'Occitane Shea Butter Cleansing Oil [Ed. Note: discontinued], which is magic for dry skin. If I have any tips on how to get away with skipping skin care at night, it would be the power of Dr. Schultz’s Beauty RX glycolic peel solution. He does peels in his Upper East Side office, and recently opened several “peel bars” in multiple states. The first time I got one, my skin was so smooth my Dior Forever Undercover Foundation wouldn’t stay on, as if I had no pores to absorb the coverage. I spot-finish with Dr. Schultz's Island Cream which is prescribed for redness, and moisturize with Allies of Skin Retinal & Peptides Overnight Mask [discontinued] or Weleda Skin Food, which I wear as a primer. (I only recommend this for very dry skin.)
Because I never wash my face, I’m a sucker for the promises that expensive skin care makes, that I will have more command of myself, and more grace, too. This time will be different, I think, believing every time that if I spend enough on fancy jars and potions I will magically stop passing out in my lashes.
“Babe, we’re going to be late for the Polo Lounge,” I say. Nico is applying the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Powder Duo I turned him onto. He started his foray into makeup with a little mascara but we all know that’s just a gateway drug. “The Polo Lounge,” he repeats. “Lovey, you know I don’t know what that means.” I tell him it’s chic, a splurge to celebrate L.A., and he reminds me he’s been in prison for the last decade; until recently, a splurge was making little cakes in his cell out of mayonnaise and Pepsi.
“Do you have the sparkle stuff?” He’s learned fast with makeup. Lately, we’re both into the limited-edition Barbie Ferreira Becca Ignite Liquified Light Highlighter, which goes on glittery and smells like My Little Ponies.
It’s important to experiment and find a signature look when it comes to makeup. For Nico, it’s light blue Wet & Wild eyeshadow, too much Better Than Sex mascara, and the sparkle stuff.
We’re running late but decide to take the time to put the top down on the car. I’m wearing the chiffon scarf around my head, sunglasses and everything. After about five tries, it’s clear we’ve been dealt a broken convertible.
When the reservation sets us back on our next engagement, Nico orders extra lunches in pink Beverly Hills Hotel to-go boxes as an offering. When running late, try to bring a gift, if possible. Nico is from the Midwest, so he intuitively understands.
“I feel like I’m in Rad Racer,” he says, trying to get from West Hollywood to Downtown. He’s driving so fast I don’t register a Cherry billboard until after we’ve passed it.
Dinner and drinks got the best of us. I’ve woken with the sort of pulsing hangover that can only be cured with getting out of bed. What else is there to do, lay there and suffer? The key is to leave the house as quickly as possible, while you’re still a bit too tipsy to realize it’s a bad idea.
First, do last night’s lashes need to be peeled off or can you just glue down the edges? A shower is essential but avoid washing your hair; you want some of last night’s secrets intact. Also. You want to make your hair bigger — utilize dry shampoo. You want to look less like you’ve just rolled out of bed and more like the night never ended.
Hangover-glam hinges on eyeliner — too much of it. Think of the greats: Lindsay Lohan’s waterline getting darker and messier, Amy Winehouse’s cat eye growing longer and longer, like the party went on for weeks. You want to look like you’ve been bad and yet smell like an angel. Scent won’t change your hangover, but it marks the line between feeling like Kate Moss on a glam bender and feeling like your hair is petrifying and your life is over.
For the trip, I’ve brought my own fragrance, Paradise Edition, created by Marissa Zappas and inspired by the love poems in my new collection, Porn Carnival: The Paradise Edition. Perfumes that feel fresh are integral to shifting the texture of a hangover, and Paradise Edition opens ozonic with salt water and bergamot before blooming to jasmine and orange flower.
Some say perfume should be "discovered," not detectable unless someone is very close, as perfume is inherently invisible, ethereal, like an accessory no one sees. In this case, I disagree. Perfume is invisible but a hangover is not. Nico and I douse ourselves, spraying perfume all over and in our hair.
A hangover wants for lotion and you want to layer your scent. Aim to match the notes in both. I complement the top notes in Paradise Edition with L’Occitane’s Shea Bergamot set or the Verbena Mandarin one. Using a hand lotion in addition to a body butter might seem fussy, but for those of us who smoke or “talk with our hands,” its power shouldn’t be underestimated.
A hangover is also the time to experiment. Sometimes when your brain is half working, it comes up with its best accessorizing ideas. It was during a hangover that I thought to buy angel wings on Etsy, rose-gold vampire fangs from GLD Shop, that I first tried high fluffy pigtails.
Other hangover secrets include drinking a glass of pickle juice. (“It’s an old Slovenian trick,” writes my friend Tea Hacic-Vlahovic in her hilarious novel Life of the Party. It does work. I think it’s the electrolytes.)
At brunch, I have exactly one-and-a-half mimosa and feel glad I’m not the one who has to talk on a podcast and later impress the publishers of a magazine. And again, we drive from West Hollywood to Downtown. Poor Nico. I’m really putting him through it.
Sitting in the stylist’s chair is a great time to get a reality check — on both your life and hair habits. Like, how often do you really need to wash your hair? Once, my ex-boyfriend complained that his hair was too dirty as we were hurrying to get ready so I sprayed a cloud of Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo. He looked startled for a moment then began laughing. “This was my favorite scent of yours,” he said. “I always was addicted to how good your hair smelled... but really your hair is just always dirty.”
The stylist asks if I remember blow-out bars. I had a membership to one! Twice a week I’d get my hair set in “Hollywood waves” à la Veronica Lake or Jessica Rabbit. It was glam, it was polished, and it absolutely wrecked my hair. The experience taught me the importance of heat protection spray (I use Living Proof) and alternating between masks so your hair doesn’t “get used” to the formula. I use the Amika Soulfood Nourishing Mask and the Living Proof Restore Repair Mask.
These days I’ve devised a way to get a budget “Hollywood waves” effect without heat. After washing my hair, I let it half-dry in a low side-swept braid. When it’s still a bit wet, I undo the braid and lightly “scrunch” with Bumble and bumble Don’t Blow It then spritz with OUAI Wave Spray. Finally, I smooth frizz with IGK Rich Kid Coconut Oil Gel. I dislike oil serums — too messy when your hair seems to thin each year — but the gel formula works.
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Nico is sitting beneath a dryer. I look over at him. No one ever looks comfortable in a hairdressing gown. He gives me a nod.
The stylist cuts the curtain bangs, measuring at my cheekbone, but then I get a little too excited, looking at inspo photos of Brigitte Bardot.
“Do you want to go a little more Bardot?” he asks.
L.A. me has a mantra: I don’t see why not.
In the mirror, I’m pleased. While it’s clear that facially I am no Bardot, I could maybe pass for a Jane Birkin type, or if you really squint, Audrey Hepburn-esque.
In the car, I immediately pull down the passenger mirror, as one does, and find that the bangs have turned on me. They aren’t laying right. The more I try to fix them the more spidery they become.
Meanwhile, Nico’s pink hair is perfect, giving Kurt Cobain for Love magazine vibes.
“We’ll stop at home before dinner,” he says, but when we get to the apartment it’s pitch dark — the power is out. I spend the evening fussing with my bangs as Nico impresses some magazine people, reciting poems in French.
We have two photoshoots tomorrow so I must figure the bangs out. Now I remember the one rule of getting your photo taken: Never change your hair right before.
When Nico and I first met, he was in a halfway house. We could only see each other during the day. When we heard he was getting out, it felt like a dream. “Can you believe we’ll be able to sleep together all night in a bed?” we kept saying. It felt like the height of luxury. It’s been about a year and we still sleep as close as possible, clutching each other until morning.
I wake with my face in Nico’s chest, bangs curled by sweat. I try to tame them but we’re already late.
Often I do my own hair and makeup for photos. It’s taken a lifetime of realizing which features to exaggerate and which to conceal. My straight-across brows aren’t going to arch no matter how much I pluck. Some makeup artists soften them a feather touch, but I play up their look with a heavy hand. Mostly, when someone else is doing my makeup, I’m afraid it won’t be enough. I believe in furry fake lashes, in overdrawing lips! (A tip: Color the lips entirely in a liner that matches. I like HUDA Beauty Liquid Matte and Lip Pencil in Gossip Girl.)
Still, there are times when makeup is best left to the professionals. I’ve only slept about four hours, but, feeling decrepit in the chair, I try to make the most of my time with MUA Danielle Katherine.
1. Watching her apply blush to the “apples” of the cheeks, I realize that on square faces like mine, the “apples” are up high, almost just below the eyes. Don’t let it spread to the hollows of the cheek!
3. Lipstick is back, she affirms. I had an inkling. Liquid lipstick smears beneath a mask. I’ve found myself reaching for BITE Buttercream Lipstick in Heather [discontinued] for its glossy finish.
Some tips for getting photographed:
Bring more wardrobe then you expect to shoot. Bring a steamer — the device, and someone to steam. (Thank you, Nico.)
Even if feet aren’t showing, wear heels for posture. Nude heels go with everything.
Avoid “spider hands” by moving slowly and continuously the entire time.
Hint at a smile but don’t smile; press your tongue against your teeth and sort of smirk.
Exhale slowly and frequently. It’s acting — act like someone who is relaxed.
When we finish the shoot, we have another shoot, then a video shoot, then dinner. Sleep truly is luxurious.
As a writer, I never gave much thought to the red carpet, yet in another timeline, Nico and I would be attending a Hollywood premiere. I imagine such an event requires confidence. I’m not going to say preparing for a red carpet is the same as prepping for an escort website photoshoot, but they deal in a similar fuss.
A few weeks before is fillers and Botox. I trust Dr. Mark Schwartz for sculpting a look (“you’re cute,” he would tell me when I’d suggest more. “Let’s not ruin it.”); Dr. Neal Schultz for under-eye fillers; Dr. Steven Pearlman's team for lips. For touch-ups that don’t break the bank, it’s Dr. Alexander Blinski.
If I’m getting “out there” and decide I need a colonic, as I have done in states of mania, Gravity in the East Village is my pick. I like their crunchy yoga-studio vibe — the attendant literally held my hand the entire time.
Anyway, there is no red carpet in spring of 2021. We skip the digital premiere.
Nico draws me a bath, adding a milky rose soak and Epsom salts. The importance of Epsom salts, which ease muscle ache, cannot be overstated enough. A sense of ease and comfort is essential to beauty.
As I’m given to layering a scent, I like sprinkling the same essential oil (usually rose) in both the water and in a plain 7-day jar candle.
I’ve recently gotten into using a giant fluffy powder puff to apply shimmering body powder to shoulders and cleavage. “Sassy,” said Nico, when he caught my routine.
The puff is from Renditions Powders. I use Peach Tinsel sparkling party powder by Too Faced [discontinued]. My bedsheets are perpetually covered in body oil stains but feeling silky and shimmery in bed is worth it.
Sunday should be lazily productive. Sundays are for eating in bed and fucking and getting up mid-afternoon to hand-wash lingerie and delicates.
I’ve come to accept that I will always stain my clothes — and I’ll never stop eating in bed — so I’ve devised a method. The Laundress Wash & Stain Bar does most of the work. For tough stains, pair with Dawn dish soap. (If it’s red wine, hit the stain immediately.) For whites, pair with The Laundress Bleach Alternative, creating a soapy paste with warm water. I use The Laundress Delicate Wash for silk and lingerie, separating whites, pastels, and blacks, stirring each in the tub, witch-like, with the end of a broom.
I try to do a face mask once a week. My current favorite is Saturday Skin Intense Hydration, but I love masks that come in a jar, like Youth To The People Hydrate and Glow Dream Mask. It’s best when skin care feels less like science and more like dealing in potions and elixirs. To feel completely decadent, apply Tatcha Gold Camellia Beauty Oil, which contains 23-karat gold flakes. At $95, it’s a splurge, but can be made to last with once-a-week use. If you’re going all out, finish with Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist.
Today we fly back to Mississippi. I’ll order a mini bottle of white wine on the plane. It can be tempting to not immediately unpack, but to take beauty seriously is to be serious about its organization. The same could be said for poetry.
In Mississippi, there are entire weeks that I don’t leave the house — still I put on makeup. I break up the day by putting an outfit on each morning and changing into a vintage nightgown by evening. (eBay is great for vintage nighties.)
Of course, beauty is about intrigue, and to intrigue one must use the mind as well as the body. Mostly, I’d rather stay in bed and read than brush my hair. I feel the pull of skipping a shower as much as any writer, but tending to beauty is a reminder that one can find grace in almost any task. It’s a sort of mindfulness, an attempt at remembering that, no matter how mundane, each part of the day can contain a sense of joy.
Some people have an altar, some have a vanity, I have both, but I get my best ideas letting my mind wander at the mirror then getting up to write in bed. Never let anyone tell you a writer shouldn’t work in bed. A desk is drab, and one has to fight off the drab to keep finding inspiration.
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