top of page


Grace Chong

Zooming in from his home in New York, iconic designer Steve Madden joined Fashion@Brown for a chat during Brown Fashion Week. Founder and former CEO of his eponymous brand, Steve Madden is best known for his shoe designs and for building his brand up to being the household name that it is today.

This event was moderated by F@B Design Director Lynn Hlaing, and the conversation flowed from reminiscing about the start of his business to the process of designing shoes for people.

While Madden’s father’s involvement in the textile industry exposed him to the fashion industry at a young age, Madden’s decision to design shoes was more influenced by his time working at Toulouse. He began with a humble $1,100, selling shoes out of the trunk of his car, but his designs—catered toward the average person—quickly gained popularity. Since then, he’s been a mainstay in the shoe industry.

Going back to the fond memories of his many firsts, he explains what it was like to open his first store in SoHo, NYC. “It was me, Dean & Deluca, and a bunch of junky jean stores.” He was there to watch the area grow with increasingly diverse stores: cheap and expensive, cool and boring. Unfortunately, he also witnessed the slow decline of SoHo as stores started moving out. He misses his former neighbor’s—“cool” grocery store Dean & Deluca—brownies.

Speaking further on his passion for designing shoes, he says that the business is constantly changing, especially with trends coming in and out of the digital world and social media. Characterizing trends as “tidal waves that sweep everything away,” he recognizes that “shoes are of their time” and that “timing is everything in fashion.” To keep up with the new digital generation, Madden says his business approach has adapted to Gen-Z through utilizing social media and collaborating with celebrities.

Simultaneously, he admits that trends can get boring. “One thing that never changes is the search and journey for a timeless, great shoe,” he says. He aims to design shoes that everyone can wear, and though he doesn’t name one specific design as a sentimental or representative shoe for the company, he says he has been more open to experimenting with sneakers as they are “a way of life.”

As much as Madden talks about his great successes, he was also very candid about some of the darker moments in his past, which he discusses in his autobiography, The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell From Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever. Through it all, he says that it was important to keep in mind that “this too shall pass,” emphasizing how his story had both positive and negative aspects which helped him to grow to who he is today.

As the interview came to an end, he left the audience with a piece of advice: “If you want to work in the fashion business, get a job at a Zara and take philosophy classes!”

bottom of page