Coffee With: Elle.com Senior Fashion Editor Nikki Ogunnaike
“My sister’s connections definitely helped get me through the door, but before my first internship, she said, “don’t embarrass me” — and she meant.”
How did your fashion magazine career begin?
I always knew I wanted to work in magazines. My older sister, Lola, is a journalist, and I interned in Domino’s public relations department for two weeks one summer during college. While that helped me figure out that I didn’t want to do PR, it also connected me to people who helped me secure internships in the fashion closets at Glamour, and later at Harper’s Bazaar. After graduation, I moved to New York City and got an unpaid internship at Elle.com while also working as a salesperson at Club Monaco and a salesperson at my brother-in-law’s wine store.
I treated looking for a full-time job as a job; I did it for three hours a day. My sister’s connections definitely helped get me through the door, but before my first internship, she said, “don’t embarrass me” — and she meant it. So I really worked hard and made my own opportunities. After six months of searching and countless interviews, I landed an assistant role in Vanity Fair’s fashion closet.
What was the most valuable experience you had early in your career, and how did you use it to grow?
After about a year at Vanity Fair, I became an editorial assistant at InStyle, where there weren’t many people who wanted to do fashion market and also write about it. My boss at that time (who is still the toughest editor I’ve ever had) recognized and helped foster my interest. If she asked me for a headline and didn’t love it, there was no limit on how many more options she’d request. I learned a lot by doing … and doing. We worked a lot of long hours, and she has probably shaped my writing more than anyone in this industry, aside from my sister.
You now work exclusively in digital. How and why did you transition from print?
When I was at InStyle, my friend Jenni started a blog called I Spy by DIY. The blog led to a column in the magazine and, later, a book deal. That’s when I realized how much access came from being able to write and work online. I watched Jenni go through this entire process in a year and half, and the writing was on the wall: Publishing was changing. After that, I started looking for full-time work in digital media and landed at Glamour.com as a style editor.
You’re now Elle.com. What does normal day look like?
I usually work out in the morning and then start writing from my apartment, where it’s quieter. Our team chat room gets going early in the morning, but when I’m writing something, I try to avoid all distractions. I pull up our content management system, close everything else, and just write. Then I head into the office, go to meetings, and grab lunch. In the afternoon, I edit other people’s writing. I work with our news editor closely in order to determine what should go on Elle.com’s fashion vertical.
When I first started out, I tried to go to every event — art openings, talks, stuff outside of fashion, too. My sister taught me that the real work starts after hours; it doesn’t exist just when you’re behind a screen. I’d attend three or four in a single night. That helped me get to know people at the beginning of my career, but as I’ve gotten older and established relationships, I’m a little more selective about how I spend my non-work hours.