Steve Madden on platforms, precipitation... and prison
If you don't have time to read this entire post, here's what you need to know: Platforms are in. Also, Steve Madden is coming to Tampa on Saturday. From 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., the shoe designer will do a fan meet-and-greet at Dillard’s at International Plaza, 2223 N West Shore Blvd. There will be giveaways including, Madden tells us, free shoes! MTV personality Julissa Bermudez will host, and a “surprise guest DJ” will spin. Get details at (813) 342-3790.
If you do have time to read this post, then you'll experience a mostly delightful chat with one of America's best-known footwear gurus. I say "mostly" because toward the end of the interview, things went South. I tried asking Madden about his college days in Miami. But my lead-in ("You spent some time in Florida, I understand") wasn't quite specific enough. Madden thought I was referring to his other stay in Florida under less fortunate circumstances.
Madden was nice, but the interview got pretty awkward after that. Here's my conversation with Madden, who called me from his New York City home on a snowy morning last week.
I understand you’re snowed in.
Yeah, I was just about to go down the block with my kids. It’s really bad — about the worst I’ve seen since I’m an adult, I think.Wow, really?
Yeah, it’s pretty bad. It’s like — bad. Usually it’s fake bad. It’s bad and everybody overreacts, ‘cause it’s kind of fun. But this one looks like it’s really bad.
So are you at home in New York then?
Yeah. I slept ‘til like 11:00 today.
That’s kind of nice. I’m from Ohio, so remember that. It forces you to watch game shows all day.
Yeah, it’s cool. I like it — even though it costs me a fortune because we have to close our business, and the stores are shut. We have so many stores in the metropolitan area. But snow is very sexy, isn’t it?
It is! This calls for a new snow boot. Are you inspired? Do you start sketching on days like this?
Actually, yeah. I actually am inspired by what I’m wearing. I put on some old engineer boots — they’re pretty cool — today. I’m about to go out. Right after this interview, I’m going to go for coffee with my wife.
Well, I won’t keep you too long. Thinking ahead to warmer weather, what are the shoes every woman must have in her wardrobe for spring?
You know, I would have said flat sandals if you had asked me a month ago. But now I’m kind of thinking that I really like big, big platforms, a la 1974. Really big, really over-the-top platforms I think would be a lot of fun.
How are we supposed to know when to invest in a shoe and what’s just a passing trend? We’ve had gladiators, we’ve had sky-high heels, we’ve had platforms? How do we know what has staying power?
That’s the great thing about Steve Madden. We make shoes at prices where you can throw caution to the wind and buy something and have fun with it. It’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg. You could buy the latest thing for $80, $90 and have something for long time, as opposed to $300 or $400, which would be too much.
We’re really digging the trend of flats and low heels right now, because they’re comfortable.
Yeah. No, they’re cool, but it’s time for some big platforms.
That’s easy for you to say, ‘cause you don’t have to wear them.
Absolutely right! I don’t. I actually did wear them once upon a time.
Wow, like the ones with the goldfish at the bottom?
Yeah. Actually, when I started in the business I was a stock boy in a shoe store when I was 16 years old. I’m 52 years old. So when I started, believe it or not platforms was a bigger trend for men than it was for women. So all the guys wore platforms. I remember when I was 16, I went to all the sweet 16s, and I was forced to get a big pair of high heels ‘cause I was so much shorter than everybody else.
Have you ever walked around in a pair of Steve Madden 4-inch heels?
No. That’s never happened, but I am surrounded by women who do. So I’ll have to vicariously live through them.
Fair enough. But for those of us still rocking the flats and the low heels, what is the most stylish way to wear them?
Flats look great with shorts and leggings and stuff like that. The gladiator sandals do look great. But I just think if you could take those same looks and put them up on heels, it might be really cool, too.
Why are there fewer options in men’s footwear, and why are they less exciting?
That is a great, great question.
Like, my husband has black and brown, and they’re the same shoe. One’s a black pair, one’s a brown pair. When they wear out, he buys the exact same shoe.
So true. It’s a very good question. The men’s shoe business used to be a lot more interesting. It’s not. Men are more conservative. Maybe the clothing’s more interesting now, so they focus on that. I don’t know. It’s something that I’ll have to think about.
Maybe that will come in time.
Yeah. I’d love for it to come. I’d love to do crazy men’s shoes.
What would you do? Do you ever think about what you would do?
Absolutely. I think about it all the time. I’d love to do platform shoes for men. But not feminine ones! They would look cool with jeans and stuff. There’s a perfect shoe — if you ever watched the movie Saturday Night Fever, there’s one shot of a guy walking away from John Travolta. He meets with John Travolta, and I think he tells him that his girlfriend is pregnant. You see him walking down the block. Those are the perfect platform shoes for men.
‘Cause there are a lot of guys who want to be taller.
Absolutely. I want to be taller.
How tall are you?
That’s respectable. I have a vegan friend who loves you non-leather shoes but wishes you would make more of them. Is there any plan to expand the line?
Madden Girl is mostly synthetic — 90 percent synthetic. I’m feelin’ my vegan brothers and sisters. I am. Unfortunately, I’m still a meat eater, but I’m definitely feelin’ them, and hopefully I’ll get to more of an evolved state in a few years.
Why do so few designers make non-leather shoes?
I think that we will make more. I think everybody is. The technology’s getting better. Some of the synthetics are really great. So I just think it’s a matter of time. We’re in the handbag business. We make so many great synthetic handbags. So yes, we’re moving towards that.
Because of the economy, my friend wants to know if you plan on making a recession shoe.
Well, we’ve been making nothing but recession shoes the last year, and it’s been fabulous. All our shoes are priced well, great value. We’re very cognizant of the recession, and we still think that we’re in it. Actually, it’s sort of a paradox. We’re kind of doing well because people recognize the value that we bring to the table.
During a recession, do you find people buying more of a particular type of shoe?
No. People are still buying. People still want fashion, so we haven’t seen a slowdown.
(Here’s where the interview goes South...)
You spent some time in Florida, I understand.
I did. I spent time in prison. In Coleman, right by where I’m going, actually.
I heard about that. What’s the story with that?
I was in prison for two years, 2003 and 2004, for some securities business — stuff that happened in the ‘90s. Foolishness that I regret. I was with a lot of guys from Tampa, actually.
Someone told me that you also lived down here for awhile, just for the fun of it.
I went to college at Miami U.
That’s what I’m thinking of.
So I have a lot of history in Florida. (Crickets chirping...)
How we get out of our flip-flop rut? (This was all I was trying to ask. Totally not worth it...)
Shoes are much more interesting, and if you could buy a pair of shoes for $20 more that look like they’re $100 more, you certainly get out of the flip-flops.
What shoes are you wearing today?
I’m wearing my black engineer boots into the snow.
Made by you?
Actually, made by Carolina.
Perfect. Stay warm and dry, and go get your coffee. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Come on out. We’re giving away a lot of free shoes, and I look forward to seeing all my friends in Tampa.
Deal Diva Dalia
Photo courtesy of Factory PR: Madden shows off his new obsession: platform shoes!