The shoe business is hardly synonymous with showbusiness but Steve Madden might well be the sole exception.
Madden found fame in the 1980s and 1990s as a shoe designer whose company Steven Madden Ltd SHOO, -0.23% proved effective at swiftly responding to changes in fads and trends in footwear.
However his association with penny-stock boiler room Stratton Oakmont resulted in a 31-month federal prison sentence for stock manipulation and securities fraud and much later on as a supporting character in Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Yet Madden bounced back following his release from prison in 2005. Steve Madden Ltd now has 250 stores worldwide and is valued at $2 billion. There are 13 brands under the company’s umbrella, including Betsey Johnson and Brian Atwood with CEO Ed Rosenfeld pursuing a policy of targeted expansion.
The lively, entertaining documentary, directed by Ben Patterson, fuses footage of Madden’s company at work with his own life which, as well prison and retail largesse, includes drug addiction and his love of music and nightclubbing.
MarketWatch spoke with Madden about the documentary and much more at his office in Manhattan:
MarketWatch: What was the impetus behind the documentary?
Steve Madden: It was two things. “The Wolf of Wall Street”, obviously. But the other thing is I wanted to get some of it out there before I forgot. It’s an interesting story. It’s not as interesting for me but when I think about it, it’s interesting. For me it’s quite prosaic sometimes because I’m sort of famous but I’m not super famous. I’m not famous like Rod Stewart or Paul McCartney. (I met Ringo [Starr] last week in the city at a club. He couldn’t have been nicer but I was too nervous to really talk to him.)
People think about famous people that they must have some super-charged life. Somehow their life is so much more interesting than theirs because they’re famous. The truth is it’s not. I only know this because I’m a little famous. I’ll be in the supermarket and people are like, “What are you doing here?” I’m like, “What the f–k do you think I’m doing here? I’m shopping for my kids!” Or when I’m in my stores. [People say] “What are you doing here?” It’s my store. It’s what I do for a living!
Do you mean that being portrayed in “The Wolf of Wall Street” took your fame to another level or you wanted to correct the perception of that film?
Neither really. I was just thinking that there’s one life and then there’s your life. You get up, you think you look like s–t, you don’t like the way your shirt looks, you don’t look the way your partner’s treating you, you’re not eating well. There’s that life. And then there’s the shoes, the stores, the internet, the gossip.
What was the most surprising thing for you about the documentary?
It took so long. We had some good people [to be in the documentary] and they [the filmmakers] would say, “No Steve, this is not a promotional film. This is a documentary. You can’t do that.” Believe me I wanted half of that s—t out of there!
What was it like watching the documentary for the first time?
It was terrible! I couldn’t bear it. Now it’s a little better for me, a little easier. But it’s an important story and hopefully we can get through to young people and give them hope that they too can overcome s–t and get a second chance, whether it’s drugs or other mistakes. You can start again and contribute.
The current challenges facing the retail business have been well documented but you’re obviously feeling bullish because your largest store opened in Times Square last August.
Clearly there has been a shift in buying habits. I don’t think it’s necessarily the internet versus the store but I think the experience is different. It’s mostly the phone. The smartphone has changed everything.
For the better?
It could be good. The traditional store has certainly suffered but I think that one has to embrace all the technology. It’s different and it keeps changing but it’s cool. I imagine it’s like people in the music business going from vinyl to CDs. It’s just a different platform but for me it’s the same.
It’s interesting when you say in the documentary that after you left prison, your business purpose became clearer.
It’s luck. I was forced to do it. It’s that thing about necessity being the mother of invention. Also because of that, I hired all these amazing people that are so smart and so much better than me where I could just try to add value where I could. It worked out well for the company. Founders can be a pain in the ass and they can really get in the way because they’re just mad. My business is structured where I’m the whipped cream on the cake.
What’s your theory as to why the market is doing so well despite the political turbulence?
I believe it’s the low interest rates that force the market to be so great. I’m not an economist but it seems there’s no place to put money and if you keep it in the bank you get no interest for it. But the market has been good for a while, it was great under Obama too. I also think like with these stocks like Apple AAPL, -0.47% , the average man can feel, touch and see how powerful it is and then they can buy the stock. It’s the same with Google GOOG, -1.10% . Everyone’s on Google. Everyone watches Netflix NFLX, -0.41% . And if you go to apartment houses and see the UPS deliveries, it’s mountains of Amazon! Lo and behold, those are the best stocks. You don’t have to do a lot of market research or study the balance sheet.
You used to live in a condominium in Trump Palace [in Manhattan.]
I got divorced and turfed out!
Did you have any memorable interactions with Donald Trump?
I was reminded today that when I was a judge at Miss Universe in 2007 I met Donald Trump. We were the judges. He came in with his son and said hello to us. That was it. I met him another time also. He tried to rent me a space in Trump where he lives and I met him there.
In the documentary you say that,“Nothing matters until you sell it.” Why do you think President Trump hasn’t been able to sell many of his policies to congress?
I think that Presidents should have one term so they don’t have to worry about getting re-elected so they can try to do the right thing. I think he’s not a dumb guy and I think he is very much hindered by the fact he wants to get re-elected. I don’t blame him because I probably would do the same thing. .I know that he knows better on some things but he’s got to go along with it because he wants his loyal base to be excited for him. I think that hurts and I also think he had an opportunity when he got elected to say, “I’m just going to be the infrastructure guy because I know how to build. I’m going to build bridges, tunnels, internet, Wi-Fi. America’s going to be amazing, that’s all I’m going to do and you don’t have to re-elect me if you don’t want to.” But he didn’t do that.
How was it judging Miss Universe?
I didn’t like it. I don’t think I was too keen on it. It was a little vapid perhaps.
What’s your sense of millennial’s spending habits on shoes?
They are buyers. But they’re a little bit more on the sneaker thing. You always need to be mindful of that when you’re making a collection now, sneakers are very important. A millennial might wear a sneaker instead of a dress shoe.
What do you think about that?
I don’t have the luxury to have an opinion about it. I have to deal with it.
— Patrick McMullan (@PatrickMcMullan) December 1, 2017
You launched Self Made which aims to help the next wave of entrepreneurs. How do they compare to your generation?
They’re unemployable (He laughs.) No, I think the spirit is the same. You think differently and it becomes a consuming passion.
Would you like to do more TV?
I’d like to maybe have some sort of a chat show. It might be interesting. There might be some room now- a couple of guys are getting fired!
Do you still look at people’s feet as much as you did?
Absolutely. I’m always looking at people’s feet. I gotta look at people’s eyes. I can’t stop looking at their feet. It’s a terrible trait.
Have you ever invested in bitcoin BTCUSD, +0.06% ?
I haven’t but I’ve watched it. It’s crazy. I wish I had but my advisers think it’s like the famous Tulip bubble. Certainly it’s going up.
What is your attitude to retirement?
I’ve been thinking about it. I’m going to be 60 next year. There are days when I think maybe it is time to go. I’m in good shape and I’m very energetic and I feel no different from when I was 30. But these guys are so good here and if I think they might be better off without me, that’s when I will go. As painful as that will be. It will break my heart.
Do you have any outstanding ambitions?
I’d like to write a book and get better at golf.