Look up Natali Germanotta on Gagapedia—yes, there is such a thing—and you won’t find much. “Younger sister to Lady Gaga,” it reads before listing bare-bones facts like age (nineteen) and occupation (fashion student at Parsons The New School for Design). In the end, the brief entry—for context, the one on “prosthetic horns” is double in length—poses more questions than answers. After all, this is Lady Gaga, someone who is not only weirdly famous but famously weird, and the fact that she has a younger sister is almost too much. (Do they veg out on the couch together? Fight over who stole whose Kermit the Frog dress? Is one of them normal?)
But if fans are hoping for Gaga II or the anti-Gaga, it’s clear, within two seconds of meeting her, that Natali’s not interested in playing the part of either. When she arrives at the Teen Vogue offices, her look is neither sensible-cousin-trapped-in-the-Addams-family nor over-the-top fashion freak: Her hair is in a slicked-back ponytail, makeup is minimal (save for dramatic liquid eyeliner), and her outfit—floor-length black skirt, black blazer, black boots, Alexander Wang bag—is part of an everyday uniform she calls “witchypoo.”
She has class later that evening and is eager to talk about her course load. When the topic of her sister is brought up, she fields questions in such a matter-of-fact tone that you almost feel silly for asking. (On her sister’s clothes: “Some of the stuff she wears I’d be like, ‘No, never.’ ” On what she calls Gaga: “Stefi.” On if they talk often: “I mean, not when she’s in Japan and doesn’t have service.”) Still, Natali also has a freak flag she isn’t afraid to fly, which becomes apparent days later, when she brings her pet lizard to the shoot and kisses it on the lips while the crew cringes.
Unlike other younger sisters of pop divas (Jamie Lynn Spears, Ashlee Simpson), Natali, whose sole public appearances have been a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in last year’s “Telephone” video and this year’s CFDA Fashion Awards, seems keen on forging her own path. She says she was always interested in fashion (and proudly notes that she was considered by friends to be best-dressed in her grade), and by senior year she had designed her graduation gown, an avant-garde number that featured a graduation cap on the sleeve. At that point, she says she decided to forgo a liberal-arts experience in favor of fashion school because “for me, college is less about getting drunk and more about learning what you need for your career.”
Of course, Natali doesn’t exactly need a diploma to gain access to the fashion industry. As this story was going to press, it was reported that the teen was in the running to design the costumes for off-Broadway show Simon Says. A tremendous credential for any young fashion student, but one wonders why she hasn’t just asked her sister to pull some strings for her (at, say, Haus of Gaga, for starters)? “For now I’d like to stay in school,” Natali says, adding that Gaga has occasionally called in favors, like the time she turned a stiletto Natali made for a school project into a shoe-shaped piano she played during a performance on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “I was at my parents’ house sobbing, like, ‘Oh my God,’” she recalls of watching the episode. And she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of working with her sister one day, though perhaps not in the capacity of stylist. “She changes 50 times a day,” she says, exasperated.
Natali, six years her sister’s junior, grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and attended Convent of the Sacred Heart, a private all-girls school. “Ever since we were kids, my parents gave us the freedom to be ourselves,” she says. Like Gaga, Natali excelled in performing and fine arts (“Music wasn’t necessarily her thing, and art wasn’t necessarily my thing,” Natali says), though their narrative differs when it comes to social life. While Gaga has recounted stories of being dumped in garbage cans by classmates, Natali’s memories are somewhat fonder. “I’ll have those friends forever. My sister and I were in different grades with different girls.”
Life has changed since then: In 2008, when Natali was a sophomore, her sister released “Just Dance” and became so megafamous that even tripping on her heel in an airport made headlines. Natali says there were instances when it was impossible to keep a low profile, like when Gaga showed up at her high school graduation—held at a church in the middle of the afternoon—in a flesh-colored unitard with rhinestone embellishments and a beekeeper-inspired headpiece replete with black netting. “The teachers were like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t handle this family,’” she recalls. The press slammed Gaga for upstaging her sister on her big day, but Natali says not only did she not mind, it was her idea: “She asked me, ‘Should I dress really conservative and look not like myself, or should I do it over-the-top and freak everybody out?’ And I was like, ‘The latter, definitely the latter.’”
If that sounds almost too generous, Natali admits that her support for her sister’s outré wardrobe choices isn’t 100 percent selfless: “Whenever I wear something crazy and my dad gives me a hard time, I say, ‘Well, at least I’m not walking out on the street with red pasties,’ and he’ll be like, ‘Good point.’”