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Model Sisters Yumi Nu and Natalie Nootenboom on Representation, the Fashion Industry, and Finding Their Roots

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It’s 5 o’clock on a Tuesday, and the doors have just opened at Petit Paulette, a French bistro-style wine bar that grazes the southern edge of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. Lively swing music drifts through the speakers and, just outside the window, rows of white daffodils are already in bloom. The charming locale is a favorite of Yumi Nu, the 25-year-old model-musician who has just moved out of her house in Silver Lake, Los Angeles and into an apartment a few blocks away. The move was precipitated by her sudden rise in fashion—first landing an appearance in Sports Illustrated last July then the September cover of American Vogue a few months later, becoming the first Asian plus size model to do so. “This is very cute,” she says, entering the bar dressed in a black duster coat and cozy gray sweater (apropos given the brisk April weather). Her hair is neatly pulled back into a low bun and classic gold hoops dangle from her ears.

A few minutes later, her younger sister and fellow model-musician Natalie Nootenboom arrives, having flown in from their family home near Las Vegas for the occasion. Natalie, 21, is wearing a solid red tank top and a necklace with a dragon clutching a pearl in its mouth, her hair loosely braided to the side. Shrugging off her coat, she reveals a tattoo of the word Awareness on her inner right elbow, while a red snake slithers across her left forearm. “I did metal for a little bit, now I’m doing rock music,” Natalie says later, speaking with the cool, confident manner that helped her become the first plus size model to walk the runway for Anna Sui when she was only 16 years old. The sisters share an easy rapport. Natalie has a very dry sense of humor, cracking self-deprecating jokes with a practiced poker face that leaves her sister in stitches. They say a bit of distance has helped them grow closer — they tried living together for a bit in LA, but, “It was not happening. We know our boundaries,” Yumi says. Agreeing, Natalie adds, “you almost have flashbacks to growing up.”

Like many other famous sisters, Yumi and Natalie have found themselves climbing the ranks of the fashion world in near tandem, which has felt challenging at times given the comparative lack of opportunities for plus size and Asian models. “But I’m so lucky to have seen sisters like Gigi and Bella [Hadid], Dakota and Elle [Fanning], who lift each other up even though they’re in the same industry,” says Natalie. “It’s like, we’re on the same team.” Beyond blood, the sisters are bonded by their mission to champion body inclusivity and Asian-American representation in media. “I didn’t have anyone that looked like me growing up, so now I’m fulfilling that for myself and for others who look like me,” Yumi says, to which Natalie heartily agrees.

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