Steve Madden’s wild ride

Steve Madden with his friend Betsey Johnson
Steve Madden with his friend Betsey Johnson Handout

“It’s been one interesting journey,” said Steve Madden, who is celebrating 25 years of footwear fame. In a little more than two decades, the NYC designer has become one of the most influential artists of his time, turning his $1,100 investment into a multi-billion dollar company. In the midst of a typical workday, brimming with excitement and high heels, Madden (who briefly attended the University of Miami in the ’70s), filled us in on the story behind the shoes.

What’s your favorite memory from the last quarter century?

My first store in SoHo. Selling my first pair of shoes was a wonderful memory. I remember they were a pair of brown suede ankle boots. I was so delighted that someone would come into a store with my name.

How does it feel when you see other people wearing your designs?

That’s the greatest feeling of all. Better than money. I want to brag, but I keep my mouth quiet these days. Fifteen years ago, I would have told them the shoe was mine.

What made you pick up a pencil and start sketching in the first place?

Honestly, I was just trying to pay the rent. I love what I do, but this is what I do to feed my family. I’m a shoemaker, a cobbler.

Did you have designers you looked up to when starting out?

I looked up to artists, moviemakers, actors and musicians more than shoe designers, such as Spike Lee and Peter O’Toole.

Describe the Steve Madden woman in three words.

Confident. Feminine. Tasteful.

What Steve Madden shoe best fits the Miami woman?

I have a new style called the Slithur, which was inspired by my trips to Florida.

You boldly started your business with little in your bank account. What advice would you give to current startups?

Find the right people to help you. Guys like me are perfectionists, and sometimes, it can paralyze you.

How do you balance commercialism with creativity?

It’s a total struggle. You want to stay current and take risks, but you also have to ring the register — it’s a challenging paradigm.

Rumor has it that you’re making a documentary. Dish!

Yes. It will be on my story. There’s a line in the Grateful Dead song, Truckin, that goes “Lately, it occurs to me what a long, strange trip it’s been,” and that sort of applies to me.

What are your plans for the next 25 years?

I’m interested in growing, getting better and working on new platforms — literally and figuratively.