Natalie Nootenboom made waves in the fall walking down the runway as the first plus-size model for Anna Sui.
Now, she’s signed to three modeling agencies and is the face of an upcoming campaign for Volcom’s extended sizing range, which kicks off with the fall denim collection.
For Nootenboom, who is the niece of DJ Steve Aoki and model Devon Aoki, the arts and creativity runs in the family. Outside of modeling, the teen has her hands in a little bit of everything from writing and collage art to working on her first heavy-metal EP.
Nootenboom chatted during the lunch break on the set of the Volcom shoot for the company’s upcoming campaign, sharing with WWD her thoughts on what the fashion industry could do to improve and why heavy metal is her go-to soundtrack for life.
WWD: You’re passionate about breaking barriers. Have you always been like that and where does that stem from?
Natalie Nootenboom: When I was about eight years old, I went to Japan and all the most beautiful women, all the beauty icons were very short and they were size 0. As an Asian woman myself, I thought, “Well, I’m never going to be that.” Growing up and seeing America’s standard of beauty, I thought, “Man, I’m never going to be that because I’m not white and I’m not size 00.”
But then I saw my aunt, Devon Aoki. She’s a model and she believed in me and she said, “You know what? It doesn’t matter if you don’t fit those clothes and if you’re not this ethnicity. Make your own standard of beauty and push those barriers.” So that’s exactly why I came into the modeling industry a year ago and it’s just crazy because people want to see change. People want to show diversity and acceptance and support. So the more that people like me can go out in the media and influence other people, that’s what matters.
I actually had this elderly lady say, “Man, I wish there was someone like you in magazines when I was your age.” That made me tear up because even someone my age when I was growing up there wasn’t that, so I’m so happy I get to open those doors.
WWD: What do you think is the biggest obstacle keeping the industry from making a real transition to where actual change has happened and we’re not talking about it?
N.N.: If you still look in magazines and you see high fashion or you see expensive brands, they’re the goal and the pinnacle of what women want to look like and what they want to wear. And plus-size or curvy girls aren’t seen as expensive or they’re not seen as classy. They’re just the cheaper brand stuff. So that’s a problem we’re not seeing that as beautiful. It’s just, “Oh, plus people exist.”
When I see a plus model in a beauty campaign at Sephora that makes me so happy because we’re starting to accept the body shape, but we have to start seeing the whole picture. It just makes me sad sometimes because I’ll talk to my other plus friends, and they’re very beautiful, and they’ve said, “Men don’t like me. They’re not attracted to me. I’m intimidating because of my curves.” That makes me sad because the more that we can push curvy as attractive, bold, strong, artistic, that’s where I want to see it go.
WWD: What other projects have you got in the works?
N.N.: I’m really excited to be working with Volcom because they love how different I am. The last time I was here and I was shooting we were doing this “True to This” [campaign] and we were talking into the camera and I was like, “Oh, my name is Natalie and I’m true to this, and I said heavy metal.” And they were like, “What?” It’s just so funny because people are either, “Oh, that’s really cool” or “That’s scary.”
WWD: How did you get into metal?
N.N.: I was 13 years old. When I was younger the only metal song I knew was Ozzy Osbourne’s “I Don’t Wanna Stop.” When I heard this song, it was the first time I heard someone scream. I was intimidated at first, but then I started listening to it more and more.
I think the most beautiful part about metal is the emotion and the honesty. Music in general is all about love, partying, the shallow things. Metal goes deeper. It’s brutally honest. It’s just release and in an artistic beautiful way, even though it’s scary.
WWD: It can be much more technical, too, the actual music.
N.N.: Yeah, I mean, it took me about a year to learn how to scream.
WWD: What’s the secret to learning how to do that?
N.N.: It’s really hard not to use your voice because it’s all in the stomach. There’s two types of screams. There’s a fry scream and there’s false chord. False chord sounds like a dog barking. It’s really in the stomach. It’s guttural. The fry scream is a high scream and you have to use something called distortion. It’s all in the nasal cavity, so I have to push it up in the nasal cavity, use my stomach to power it and make it all happen. It takes a long time. A lot of people lose their voices when they’re learning how to scream because they’re so used to using their throat.
WWD: I think I’ll go home and practice now.
N.N.: I went through two vocal coaches because it takes a lot. I was driven. There were so many times I was in a parking lot just trying to scream. So it was great because now whenever I’m angry or I just have a lot of emotions, it’s just a great way to relieve stress.
The kind of fry scream that I’m trying to learn and master is called the whistle fry so basically there’s an overtone to your scream so you can have a fry whistle tone. You’ve heard Ariana Grande sing? Those are whistle tones. People do that when they scream naturally and the vocal cords basically have to part a centimeter. You have to have very thin vocal cords. Not everyone can do it, so I’m trying to learn that. It’s like a whistle tone. It’s cool.