It’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday and the doors have just opened at Petit Paulette, a French bistro-style wine bar that skims the southern edge of Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. Upbeat, swinging music wafts through the speakers, and just outside the window, rows of white daffodils are already in bloom. The charming venue is a favorite of Yumi Nu, the 25-year-old model musician who has just moved from her home in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, to an apartment a few blocks away. The move was precipitated by her sudden rise in fashion – first appearing in Sports Illustrated last July and then September cover of American vogue months later, becoming the first plus-size Asian model to do so. “That’s very cute,” she says as she walks into the bar dressed in a black dust jacket and a comfy gray sweater (by the way given the mild April weather). Her hair is neatly pulled back into a low bun and classic golden hoops hang from her ears.
Minutes later, her younger sister and fellow model-musician Natalie Nootenboom arrives, arriving from their family home near Las Vegas for the occasion. Natalie, 21, wears a plain red tank top and a necklace with a dragon holding a pearl in its mouth, her hair loosely braided to the side. Shrugging, she reveals a tattoo of the word Awareness on her inner right elbow, while a red snake slithers down her left forearm. “I did metal for a little while, now I do rock music,” Natalie later said, 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 just 16 years old. The sisters share an easy relationship. 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 helped them get closer – they tried to live together for a bit in LA, but, “It just wasn’t happening. We know our limits,” Yumi says. In agreement, Natalie adds , “you almost have flashbacks to grow up with.”
Like many other famous sisters, Yumi and Natalie have found themselves climbing the fashion ladder in near tandem, which at times has seemed difficult given the relative 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 support each other even though they are in the same industry,” says Natalie. “It’s like we’re on the same team.” Beyond blood, the sisters are bound by their mission to advocate for body inclusion and Asian-American representation in the media. “I didn’t have anyone who looked like me growing up, so now I’m realizing that for myself and for others who look like me,” Yumi says, something Natalie wholeheartedly agrees with.