FIRST DIMERS: Nikki Ogunnaike

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner 
AUGUST 2021 
            Nikki Ogunnaike is the Digital Director of Harper’s Bazaar and has been a Dimepiece cheerleader since day 1. In fact, she’s the one responsible for my monthly watch column… her mind, her vision. I was delightfully surprised when she reached out because, first of all, to what do I owe this honor? But it thrilled me to see that someone in her position would have such an ardent appreciation for watches. She has been in the digital media game for over 10 years now and recalls a time working at GQ, where watches have always been a hot topic; but for her to carve out a focused space for them at Bazaar felt insightful and, frankly, prophetic. In the past year, the watch industry has skyrocketed and timepieces (dimepieces) have become that much more popular amongst women. It’s just one small testament to prove how thoroughly she knows what she’s doing. Other examples of her prowess are, oh, little things! Like her instrumental involvement in Beyoncé’s recent Bazaar cover. Or putting together “CELEBRATE BLACK: A VIRTUAL STYLE SUMMIT”, Hearst Black Culture and Hearst Magazine’s initiative to amplify the voices of Black professionals in fashion, beauty, design and entertainment. I could really go on for pages and pages about all the good work she’s done, but let’s talk watches, shall we??

Brynn Wallner: How long have you been at Bazaar?

Nikki Ogunnaike: I’ve been there for about 8 months now, but I’ve worked in digital media for, oof, a long time. I was on that second wave of digital media, so post-the beginning of blogs, but still at a time when magazines were treating blogs like dumping grounds. I got my first digital job at, and we were sort of these dweebs in the corner banging out blog posts. I remember people being like, oh hi, bloggers. What are you guys writing about today, bloggers? But I thought, one day we are going to be incredibly important in this ecosystem. And now we are!

BW: I mean…

NO: Digital media has been such a fun place to work and I really got into it because I saw how fast it was and how it could bring about so many opportunities. Like, us meeting was one of those opportunities! You know? When I started in digital media, Instagram didn’t even exist – or it was just starting. But I’ve been able to meet so many people and amplify so many voices through social media platforms.

BW: Was “influencer” even a word then?

NO: I don’t know, back then – and when I say back then, I mean, like, 2010… so not even that long ago. But “back then” the influencers were, oh, Garance Doré and Scott – what is it? Schuman? When they were dating, you know.

BW: Or, like, Blonde Salad.

NO: Yes, Blonde Salad. Bryanboy when he was first starting. Tavi [Gevinson] when she was a blogger – when she was the Style Rookie, not the Gossip Girl actress. It felt like this band of misfits that didn’t want to play by the traditional media rules. I always found myself straddling the line between knowing people in that space, but having a reverence and respect for traditional media.

BW: How did you get into watches?

NO: I’ve always sort of been into watches and admired people who wore the really big ones. But I didn’t think about buying myself one until, well… Dimepiece came on my radar, but also simultaneously the pandemic was happening. I wanted to get myself something that I would remember, that would have significance. I like for my things, like jewelry, to be significant, especially when those things are very expensive. So I wanted to get this watch [the Panthère] as a “congrats you made it” gift to myself.

BW: Made it, like career-wise?

NO: Well, actually, a lot of different things. I turned 35 in 2021, I became a site director, I made it through a pandemic healthy.

BW: Have you gotten it engraved with “congrats you made it”?

NO: Not yet. They said it was going to take 2 weeks, and I was like, okay well I’m just going to keep wearing it. But I definitely want to get it engraved as a reminder of that time period. And then the Roadster… I got it because, I don’t know, once I get something I start to become very obsessed. I spend a lot of time looking at things. I just remember being an assistant in 2007, thinking oooh, the Cartier Roadster is the watch to have. It was such a celeb watch. So I looked at all these different resale sites like 1stDibs and The Real Real, and I ended up finding the Roadster on Fashionphile. It was also around the time when I was over having, just, a lot of clothing and bags in general. So I traded in some bags and got the credit and used that to buy the watch!

BW: Very nice! Is the Panthère new?

NO: The Panthère is new and the Roadster is vintage.

BW: Did you buy the Panthère at the Cartier Store?

NO: I did. I got it at the Cartier store in Hudson Yards. It was actually random that I was over there – I had seen an art exhibit at some nearby gallery and my sister was like, let’s go to Hudson Yards or whatever that weird mall is over there. Strange, but fine. I was like, okay, let’s have a moment at the Cartier store!

BW: Wow, so it was kind of spontaneous.

NO: It was kind of spontaneous, but also serendipitous. You know, it felt like all of these things were aligning at once.

BW: You got the red box. Did they bring you into a suite?

NO: It was a whole thing! I got the red box, they brought me into the suite. I sipped some Perrier – delicious. But I got super self-conscious before I walked out… I had them put the red bag in the white bag because I got weird about making this big purchase. I was like, put it in the white box, it’s fine. And towards the end I was like, can we just wrap this up and go? [laughs] Like, I don’t need all the pomp and circumstance.

BW: What drew you to the Panthère?

NO: It’s funny, I tried on a bunch of different watches, actually. I had always thought that my first watch was going to be a Tank.

BW: Like, on a leather strap?

NO: A leather strapped Tank. I tried that on and it felt kind of boring. Not exactly my style. It didn’t have enough of an edge for me. I still really love the Tank, and I think I’ll eventually get it, but I didn’t want it to be my first watch. And then I tried on the Tank that you have [the Française], but it was a bigger size than yours. There was something about the way it sat on my wrist that I didn’t love. I was like, alright, let’s try on the Panthère. And they were like, do you want to try on the gold one? No… I don’t have enough money for a gold Panthère.

BW: It’s sooo expensive.

NO: It’s so expensive! I would one day love to be able to get it. And so I tried on the two-tone but there was something about it that didn’t feel right for me, so I went with the steel.

BW: It looks great on you.

NO: I don’t have a lot of silver or steel jewelry at all – I wear a lot of gold. But this… I just like the way it looks against my skin.

BW: I also feel like the gold in that size might be too much.

NO: Yeah, the steel is subtle enough for an everyday watch, but it’s still an “if you know you know” piece.

BW: And it dresses up! You could wear it with anything. Do you wear it all the time?

NO: I do wear it all the time. My sister and I go on early morning walks, and I was wearing it one day, and she was like, it’s so crazy that your walking watch is a Cartier watch. It’s not usually, but I just happened to be wearing it! I just think, though, it’s very symbolic of how far I’ve come in my career. You know, growing up, we didn’t have a ton of money, so the fact that I’m able to buy myself a watch… I think about what it was like to be a magazine assistant making $30K a year, and now, I actually bought myself a Cartier watch. It really means a lot.

BW: More so than, like, a bag.

NO: Yeah, and when I don’t wear it, I feel a little empty. I catch myself looking at my wrist, like, where’s my watch? There is something more symbolic and more… impactful, more meaningful… buying a watch vs. buying a bag.

BW: If you have kids, they might get it…

NO: Yeah, you pass it along…

BW: So, do you wear the Panthère a lot more than the Roadster?

NO: I do. The Roadster is a little… heavy.

BW: It looks heavy!

NO: It’s a little heavy, so I wear it every once in a while. I like to wear it when I want to make a statement or be a little flashy.

BW: That adds to the fun.

NO: The Panthère feels more everyday and the Roadster feels more like an occasion.

BW: What’s your sign?

NO: I’m a Capricorn. January. When I turned 35, I went on a bit of a jewelry spending spree. I got a diamond tennis necklace, I got this watch, I got a garnet necklace – and after that, I was like, okay, calm down [laughs]. I just wanted to get those classic pieces that I could wear all the time. Especially during the pandemic, you’re wearing sweatpants all the time and you feel very blah. I knew I wasn’t going to be wearing my bags, but I knew I could wear jewelry and watches.

BW: Do you notice watches on others now that you have one?

NO: All the time. I’ve noticed them before, but now, especially. I’ve noticed them on women more as well. It’s really cool to see women in this space. I’ve always known – I don’t want to say the watch industry is misogynist or anything – I just noticed how male-focused it was. The advertising was always directed at men, and there was never the same focus on women who were just as excited about buying themselves watches. It’s cool to see women – especially women of color – to get into it as well.

BW: Have you noticed a shift? Is there any focus on watches at Bazaar, besides what I’m doing?

NO: Yeah, they have a watch page in the magazine, but I think what was really special about what you brought in there was personality. I mean, talking about watches can be hard because it can get super nerdy really quickly, right?

BW: It’s definitely a fine line.

NO: There are some people who just like a nice watch. And how do you speak to those people? I think you do a really good job of that.

BW: Well thank you for taking a chance on me! Do stylists incorporate watches into shoots?

NO: When I worked at GQ, it was always like, we gotta get the watches in. We need the watches. The guys were always styled in them. It was such a big thing over there. But I think, more and more, women’s magazines are incorporating them. Not in the nerd out way, but in the “watches as an accessory” approach.

BW: I’m waiting for the day when they start incorporating watches into red carpet looks.

NO: Yes! Why is that? Why do you rarely see that?

BW: Well, they always have the man wearing a cool watch.

NO: They do! Why can’t a woman be wearing a beautiful gold Panthère watch? Or even one that looks like a bracelet?

BW: Well, Lizzo, for the Grammys… she was dripping in Bulgari. And I was like, why couldn’t they have taken that a step further and put her in a Serpenti watch?

NO: I’m dying for a Serpenti…

BW: I knowww… but H.E.R. “Ladies and gentleman, H.E.R.” She wears her Rolex Datejust at all the red carpet events.

NO: I love that! I think it’s such a good idea. It’s a statement. Women are relegated to wearing only earrings, necklaces, bracelets… but we also wear watches, so why can’t we wear them on the red carpet?

BW: There’s a way to make it work with a ball gown!

NO: Absolutely. Aren’t you trying to check the time?? The thing is, now, I feel crazy looking at my phone to check the time because I have the watch now.

BW: I think my screen time has gone down because of the watch. Because I’ll check the time on my phone and be like, oh, I got a text message

NO: Oh, I got a Slack… and then deep dive into Instagram because I happen to be there.

BW: Is there a watch you’re trying to get next?

NO: I was actually reading your interview with Danielle Prescod and talked to her about this… I love how she got a watch from the year she was born. There’s currently a watch on 1stDibs from my birth year. It’s a Rolex. It’s gold, but it has a black strap so it feels more formal.

BW: And it’s from 1980-something?

NO: ‘86! Yeah, so maybe that. It’s 34mm, which feels kind of big? It’s hard when you can’t try it on in person.

BW: 34mm isn’t too big, though! Actually, most women I know who’ve been into watches, they love a 36mm. They’re like, 36mm is my sweet spot. It’s funny because it used to be that 36mm was the largest a man would go, back in the day. But now a lot of women… Anyway, do you have any advice for women who are into watches but may be intimidated by them for financial reasons, primarily?

NO: I think, obviously, save up. I also think a lot of people are hesitant to shop resale or preowned. But there are so many great watches that aren’t in production anymore that you can find.

BW: Like the Roadster!

NO: Exactly. Those resale sites, like Fashionphile, 1stDibs, Rebag, The Real Real… they have great watches there. I think those are great places to learn about watches and you can save up and get a preowned watch for a preowned price.

BW: It’s almost cooler when it’s preowned!

NO: Yeah, you can find something sentimental. Like the birth year!

BW: Make a little story around it!

NO: People get weird about making big purchases – they feel guilty, like they shouldn’t be spending the money. But you work hard. You work really hard. You should feel like you can treat yourself, and that’s okay! You shouldn’t be ashamed of working hard and buying yourself something nice if it makes you feel good.