When I first met Nikki Ogunnaike in the halls of InStyle Magazine in 2007, we were both bright-eyed assistants at the very start of our careers. It was a time before Instagram, when fashion editors bonded IRL in the cafeteria or over cheap wine after long days. Approachable and confident with style in spades, I was immediately drawn to Nikki’s easygoing nature and unabashed work ethic.
Even though we didn’t stay in close touch, thanks to the boom of digital media, I’ve kept up with her career. Whether she’s exploring “How to Fix Fashion”—a piece she wrote for Elle.com in which she asked 36 industry insiders that very question—testing out trends on camera in her YouTube series Online, IRL, or posting her effortless prep-meets-street outfits on Instagram, the authenticity of her voice and style shines through everything she does.
As Style Director at Elle.com, she oversees the tone and visuals for the fashion and beauty verticals. This means everything from a quick hit news story to big fashion features, as well as representing the publication at events and on TV. Plus, of course, there’s Fashion Month, which requires at least one international trip every six months.
Just days before catching a plane to Paris to cover fashion week for Elle.com, I caught up with Nikki over a glass of wine at Freds Downtown to discuss how her style has evolved with her thriving career and what it meant to get in on the ground floor of the digital boom.
Authenticity is really important to me. I’ve always tried to stay consistent—what you see is what you get.
NO NORMAL DAYS
“There are no normal days in media, so I try to keep my mornings as routine as possible: news, coffee, podcasts, and working out a few times a week. I am a naturally curious person, so I enjoy consuming news in the morning. I’m up by 7 a.m. at the latest and start with a quick scroll through Instagram. After a workout, I’ll have breakfast and catch up on The Cut, Fashionista, Business of Fashion, and the New York Times. I recently got subscriptions to The Cut and the Times because I wanted to invest in media, so I feel I’m doing my part to keep my institutions alive.”
“When I get dressed, I always consider my schedule for the day. If I’m going to appointments, I’ll wear a dressier outfit, like a suit or cargo pants. For shoes, I’ll wear sneakers or mules—I’ve hit a point in my life where I can no longer where high heels. I started running a lot and decided I can only abuse my feet, knees, and hips so much. Sneakers and mules have become part of my signature style now.
When I first started working in fashion, I was up for trying any trend, but now I dress for myself and my day-to-day rather than for the sake of something. My style has always leaned toward urban, downtown—nothing too prim or prissy, and I love menswear-inspired pieces. I like to feel put together, but always on my terms. Also, I want to be able to wear the clothing that I buy. A lot of times women buy these amazing trophy pieces and they sit in the closet, but I want to wear what I invest in so it needs to be functional.”
“I’m not a huge print person—you won’t see me in florals very often—but I consider camouflage, stripes, and leopard print my neutrals. I’ll wear these RE/DONE cargo pants and Comme top to the office to feel put together and can play around with the shoe depending on what I’m doing.
Suiting is big for fall, and I’ve always been into suits. I grew up watching my dad wear them all the time and really feel a real affinity towards them. Women who wear suits look so powerful, chic, and beautiful. I would never do a suit with a buttondown shirt—that feels too corporate. I like to add a touch of streetwear, like a graphic shirt or sneakers.
Jumpsuits have saved my life in terms of getting dressed. I think they’re surprisingly versatile, and I’m bringing a few to Paris. They can look dressed up when you have on a heel, but always feel comfortable and cool.”
THE FASHION WEEK PACKING STRATEGY
“I hate packing, and I’m the worst at it. It takes me three days to muster the courage to pull out the suitcase because I find it so daunting. To make it easier, I create a capsule wardrobe centered around hero pieces. I don’t pack a ton of shoes, and I try to make sure most pieces can fit into 2 or 3 different looks. For example, I’d wear this Officine Générale suit with a hoodie on the plane, so it’s a double duty travel outfit. I can re-wear the jacket with jeans and white t-shirt, and I’ll even wear the trousers again with a heel. I try to have a little fun with bags and sunglasses—that’s where I mix it up. Sunglasses can transform an outfit.”
WHEN IN PARIS
“In Paris, the Houses really bring you into their world. The venues are so historical and gorgeous. It’s electrifying to be there. I love that in Paris you actually have time to sit down and share a meal with your peers, so you bond that way. It’s a really unique experience that’s hard to explain to people who have never done it. It’s like summer camp—you gather every six months and go through this intense, weird, and beautiful experience together.”
THE SOCIAL MEDIA GAME
“What’s nice about coming into the work force in 2007 is that I remember it before social media. I’m very consistent with how I portray myself on the Internet. I’m kind of a private person, and I think that’s because I grew up before the age of oversharing online. That being said, I saw what social media could do for my friends who were early bloggers, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that, so it’s grown along with my career trajectory. I’ve never looked at it as a threat or something that’s going to take down magazines—it’s just another platform to publish on.”
I hope that just by existing, I am slightly revolutionizing what this industry looks like.
“The biggest compliment I can receive is when someone says they can hear my voice in a story or if they meet me and they say that I’m just like I am on my Instagram. Authenticity is really important to me. I’ve always tried to stay consistent—what you see is what you get. I write a lot about body positivity, inclusivity, and racial issues because that is my day-to-day. I’m a black woman in a white industry. I have hips and a butt. I am very wary of call out culture, but I do like that now people have a tool to amplify their voices. A lot of these brands were getting away with really crazy stuff, and the ability for someone on their phone to start a dialogue and say let’s do better is really powerful.”
CONTINUING THE DIALOGUE
“The conversations happening in fashion right now are ever-evolving, and I hope to remain on the front lines. If you told me five years ago that we’d be talking about race and body issues the way we are now, I wouldn’t have believed you. When I started out, I didn’t think there was even room for someone like me. Brands weren’t dressing people who looked like me and there were very few fashion editors who looked like me. I hope that just by existing, I am slightly revolutionizing what this industry looks like.”