Sometimes you have to do it to 'em.
When destiny beckons, when the long novel of time calls your character to the fore, when a nation arrives at a crossroads, there is no other logical option. Last week, at the inauguration ceremony of President Joe Biden, full-time dad and reluctant fashion icon Nikolas Ajagu had to do it to 'em.
"There was a whole history for me to consider when I was thinking about what I was going to wear to the inauguration," he says now.
Ajagu is the partner of Meena Harris, niece to newly sworn-in Vice President Kamala Harris. Though his proximity to the new administration could afford him a certain level of fame, he is apprehensive of the spotlight. He mostly stays off social media, instead spending his time raising his and Meena's two young daughters, Amara and Leela. His presence on Inauguration Day would have been a footnote were it not for his footwear: the Dior x Air Jordan 1 High, a limited sneaker collaboration from 2020 that retailed for $2,200 and currently resells for around $7,000.
His shoes went viral seconds after they appeared on camera, as he walked down the steps behind Amy Klobuchar's talking head. Here, at the highest tier of political theater in the US and amid more traditional formalwear, was a declaration that certain sneakers could be suitable for an occasion so grand. It was a fitting appearance given Vice President Harris' decision to wear (much more pedestrian) sneakers on the campaign trail.
Ajagu in the Dior x Air Jordan 1 was one of the major memes of the inauguration, but he is apprehensive about claiming his spot in history. He was a mystery man at the event for the general public until Bobby Hundreds, co-founder of The Hundreds, identified him. Ajagu is not selling sweatshirts to commemorate his getting a fit off in front of the whole free world, nor is he parlaying the clout into a part-time influencer career. There are no TikTok videos coming.
Ajagu does not want to be famous for wearing the sneakers. He also doesn't want them to be interpreted as an ostentatious call for attention. If anything, he was compelled by fate—he had to do it to 'em.
"If I didn't bring myself to wear them to the inauguration it was very likely they would never actually see the light of day," Ajagu says.
Here, in an email conversation with Complex, Ajagu explains how he got the Dior Jordans, how they got on his feet that day, and what he plans to do with them next.
How long did you have this planned for?
Not long at all. I put together the outfit around midnight when I was packing the night before our flight out to DC. I tend to do things at the last minute, so that was pretty typical.
Were there any other sneakers you were considering wearing to the inauguration? Based on your partner's tweet it seems like you have a real sneaker collection and this isn't just a one-off thing for you.
Yeah, I love sneakers and have been collecting them for a while. Sneakers and hats are the two things I collect. I got really into sneakers when I was a kid. We didn't have money for anything that wasn't absolutely essential, so at that time it was more about admiring them from afar than actually collecting them. To this day, I associate specific shoes with the kids I grew up with that used to sport them. The Concords (A-Rea), the Uptempos (Khari), the Penny 2s (Pat), the Foamposites (also Pat, SMH), Air Max 98s (Busa), Brave Blue 13s (Cannon), etc. Every time the Eastbay catalog came in the mail, I'd pine over the shoes in there like a kid looking at photos of their crush in the high school yearbook. I didn't really start to step up my sneaker game until after college, when I moved to New York and finally had a little bit of disposable income to spend on Fulton Street. Friends like my boy Jay, who was both my barber and an important mentor, eventually put me onto spots like Extra Butter, Kith, and Flight Club.
So there was a whole history for me to consider when I was thinking about what I was going to wear to the inauguration. I knew I wanted to wear Js, but it did take me a minute to decide which ones. I love 11s and thought for maybe (maybe) a hot second about rocking the Space Jams or even the Jubilees, but I quickly came to my senses and didn't even bother putting them on. Then I took out a pair of 4s (the 11-Lab-4s) and tried them on with a pair of slacks, just to see if that could work. I considered those particular sneakers for obvious reasons, thinking I might score a nod from the 44th president if (a) I somehow got a chance to meet him, and (b) he actually happened to notice my shoes. I ultimately decided that this inauguration was about looking forward, not backward, so I moved on.
Next, I considered unboxing a new pair of black Flyknit 3s, because 3s are probably my favorite Js, and I knew I could pair them with my black suit. The Flyknit 3s are kind of a go-to for me though, so I moved on because I felt like this occasion was a good opportunity to wear something more special. The last shoes I considered were the silver Tokyo 1s, mainly because I thought it would be dope to rock silver shoes to the inauguration. I also liked what the 1s represented. How they broke barriers and opened doors. They were "historic firsts." It was with that thought that my mind immediately shifted to the Dior 1s, and at that point it was pretty much a wrap. They were perfect. They came together in 2020, and represented something that was both classic and new. I also realized that if I didn't bring myself to wear them to the inauguration it was very likely they would never actually see the light of day. So that was it. I know it all sounds like a long process, but everything from start to finish probably took less than 30 minutes.
Was this the first time you wore the Dior 1s? It seems like the kind of shoe you save for a special occasion when you really have to do it to 'em. I imagine you laying the outfit on the bed the night before, like a kid before the first day of school.
Haha—that's exactly what it felt like. Usually, when I need to get dressed up for a special occasion, I'll choose my sneakers first and then build the rest of my outfit around them. That's what I did here. I don't have a lot of "business" or "formal" clothes (I usually wear jeans, a T-shirt, and a hat), so it didn't take me very long to figure out what I owned that could work with the Dior 1s. My plan was just to match my outfit to the colors and textures in the shoe. After trying everything on to make sure it still fit, and laying out my outfit on the couch to be sure it looked OK, I thought briefly about bringing an SF Giants hat to wear as well. Not to rock during the inauguration itself, but to wear when we were in transit to and from some of the events that day. I own a lot of Giants hats. Like a lot a lot. Like definitely more than anybody you know. So this was a bit of a process. I eventually narrowed it down to a Dog Ear 59FIFTY, a 2013 59FIFTY Stars and Stripes, and an ice blue 59FIFTY with a crazy underbill design before scrapping the idea entirely and deciding to leave them all at home.
We got a pair of Dior 1s at the inauguration! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/8y31C9c393— Complex Sneakers (@ComplexSneakers) January 20, 2021
How soon did you realize that your sneakers had gone viral? It was this double-take moment for people watching—Did I really just see the Dior Jordan 1s walking down the steps behind Amy Klobuchar?
The day was a total blur, so I actually don't remember exactly when I realized that my sneakers were a thing. My main concern the entire ceremony was preventing Amara and Leela from doing something crazy that would seriously disrupt the ceremony, so I used my phone sparingly and mainly just to take pictures. The only reason why I was walking down the steps during Senator Klobuchar's speech was because Leela, after refusing to pee when we took a pre-emptive bathroom break 20 minutes beforehand, insisted she "really needed to go potty." We had to wait for President Biden to make his way down the steps before we could head up to the restroom. The entire time I was praying silently (or maybe not-so-silently) that she didn't pee her pants (or worse). When I finally (and frantically) got her upstairs and on the toilet, she changed her mind and refused to go at all. That's Leela in a nutshell. After a lot of cajoling, I decided we needed to cut our losses and head back to the event. When we got to the steps, I assumed it was like church and I should wait for Senator [Klobuchar] to finish speaking before we walked back to our seats, but security urged me to go ahead, so I did. Quickly and very cautiously, hoping not to cause a distraction. SMH.
I used to work in social media but I was never all that active on it, and after having kids I pretty much just stopped using it with any regularity. Some people can do social media and parenting, but I'm too easily distracted. When I'm taking care of the kids (which is most of the time) I typically leave my phone on "silent mode" (Meena made me stop using "do not disturb"), and check in on things when it's convenient. That can make it hard to hit on restocks, but it's a necessary trade-off.
I'm only barely on Twitter and only have an account so that I can get real-time alerts from SoleLinks and check in on occasional COVID- or NBA-related news. Beyond that I follow Barack Obama, Marcia Coyle, LongDriveLarry, and that's pretty much it.
Instagram is the same way. I have an account, and a few times a week I'll check in for a few minutes after the kids go to bed. I do it so that I can see what Meena is posting and try to be supportive (or more frequently to give her a hard time), and in the process I'll often get lost in a vortex of hoops- and sneaker-related content before pulling myself out of it and moving on to the newspaper apps and podcasts like APM Marketplace, PBS Newshour, or The Lowe Post.
As a result, I depend almost entirely on Meena, group chats with my boys, and traditional news outlets to stay up-to-speed on what's happening in the social media universe. It also means I'm always hella late to the game. That's pretty much exactly what happened with the inauguration situation. I had no idea that any of this ish was going on until way after it started.
At some point during the ceremony, Meena tapped me and said something like "holy sh*t, your shoes are trending on Twitter." Having only a vague understanding of what that even meant, I opened my phone, and immediately realized that all hell had broken loose. I had an ungodly amount of DMs that just seemed to keep multiplying (my worst nightmare), and all of my group chats were on fire. I thought my phone was going to explode. I quickly scrolled through a thread with my boys from growing up, and after wading through the deep, burbling cesspool of sh*t they were giving me, I was finally able to get a decent sense of what was going on.
It was a huge moment on Twitter, but it's hard to tell how much people on the ground that day would have paid attention to the sneakers. Were there any reactions from President Biden or Vice President Harris on your sneakers? Did Bernie Sanders ask you about them? Maisy Biden showed up in Jordans, she had to have noticed.
The first person to notice the shoes was Meena. I was careful not to put them on until we were about to walk out the door. We were running behind (as usual), and I thought that waiting until the last minute decreased the likelihood that she'd make me take them off and put on traditional dress shoes. I even had my comebacks carefully planned out: "But Maisy Biden wore the Pure Money 4s to the victory speech (legend for that). I'm sure it's OK." To my surprise (and delight) she just glanced at them and said something like, "I like your shoes. Can you take a picture of me and the girls?" and that was that.
The next people to notice the kicks were the two dudes working security in the holding room of our hotel. After getting patted down and metal detected, one of the dudes gave me props on them, and the other offered to set them up with their own security detail. On the way to the morning service a staff member made a comment about them and mentioned he'd recently gotten into the sneaker game, and just outside the church a few members of the national guard noticed the kicks and gave me a nod. That was pretty much what I'd expected. A knowing nod from a sneakerhead here or there, and not much else. After they went viral, that all changed, of course.
Where did you get the shoes? Even if you got them for retail, that's pretty much a whole stimulus check on your feet. Resale prices on them are around $7,000 right now.
They were actually a gift from my boy, Nate Sellyn. The full story behind my acquiring the shoes goes back to the 49ers' heartbreaking loss in Super Bowl LIV (I'm a lifelong 49ers fan), but that's for another day!
Is there any chance something like this can catapult you to influencer status? Has Jordan Brand reached out yet?
I'm certainly not an influencer, and I feel pretty uncomfortable in any instance where I'm the center of attention. I had a surprise birthday Zoom last month, and I just awkwardly stared at the screen, not sure of what to do or say. Meena is the real influencer in our family. She enjoys it, she is great at it, and she works tirelessly to do it well. I'm just a dad. My singular focus is raising my two daughters as best I can, and being a supportive partner to Meena and a good son, brother, and friend. After that it's trying to be a decent person, to model good behavior for my girls, and to help with causes where I think I can make a real impact. Right now, for example, it's helping to address needs in early childhood education at the local level.
What happens to the shoes now? Smithsonian? Sotheby's? Family heirloom? This is a piece of history.
No idea. Wiped them down and put them right back into the box. Maybe I'll pull them out again in about four years.