Steve Madden, the man who calls himself a “shoe creator,” ironically wore no shoes when a WWD reporter stopped by his Manhattan brownstone to interview him recently. He wore jeans and an untucked white T-shirt — you know, really gussied up for this thing — having set his signature baseball cap aside. The house smelled of incense while Corinne Bailey Rae played in the background. It was a stark contrast from his shady past, to be sure: In 2002 he was convicted of securities fraud and money laundering, went to prison for 30 months, and then spent a stint at a halfway house in the Bronx.
But now he’s sensitive — and married! — with two kids who take private yoga lessons. Yet despite the feminine touches in his home and girly music on the stereo, he hasn’t forgotten who he is deep down inside:
“I like to fucking curse,” he says to start the conversation. “It’s real, it’s how I talk, and it’s how we grew up talking.”
See, this is not a felon made insecure by his criminal past. This is a man who not only knows how to make a visitor comfortable, but also is passionate about what young people want to wear on their feet. He knows what sets his work apart:
We design shoes every day, and we are as creative as Prada. We are creating as much as the Pradas and the Chloés of the world. Do we make $900 shoes that are in Neiman Marcus? Have we made shoes just like that, which are less than $100 and have been great? Yes, we have. We’re out there creating and designing every day, making and building a meal for our customers. That creativity is not appreciated, and I would argue that what we do is harder. I could design an $800 shoe line; it’s easy. You use the best materials and you can make beautiful shoes. It’s easier than making great shoes for $90.
The creativity may not be appreciated because Madden is regularly sued by the Pradas and Balenciagas of the world for allegedly knocking off their designs. In October, Alexander McQueen sued him for copying a shoe design, and in December Balenciaga sued him for the same thing. And in a matter of seconds surfing his site we came across this shoe that looks remarkably like an Ugg boot. Yet Madden emphasizes that creativity is the most important part of what he does.
FN: When did the department stores start to pick you up?
SM: Nordstrom was right away. In those days, people gave you a chance. I suppose they still do, to some degree, but you have to have really creative stuff.
Madden has a vision for his company in 2020: “Steve Madden is hopefully walking around with a baseball hat on, still making hot shoes with a lot of young people around him.” And perhaps a Celine Dion power workout mix on his iPod.
Milestone: Q&A With Steve Madden [Footwear News/WWD]