In his sophomore feature, documentarian Ben Patterson would have us believe that Steve Madden, the man behind the shoe brand of the same name, is at worse, just a bit of a rough diamond. From his humble beginnings in Queens NY, this self-made man found he had a natural affinity with selling women’s shoes. which he much preferred than having to go study in University.
However both of these activities allowed him to indulge in a drug & drink fueled hedonistic lifestyle which he and his friends from childhood still recount with glee. Then after working for a footwear wholesaler in NY’s garment district, Madden set up his own shoe business operating out of a car that was both his office and delivery vehicle.
Although he never studied design, Madden had developed a natural flair for being able to successfully predict what young women wanted to wear. His first shoes were a little like him : crude, simple and clunky. But also like him, they were enormously popular, and soon he opened his very first retail store.
That very soon became a whole chain after an old friend Danny Porush suggested that his brokerage firm who were looking to finance new businesses, could help him expand. It worked , and with an extremely successful public launch, overnight Madden went from struggling to pay his rent to owning a private jet. However the deal was was from being as legitimate as it should have been, and in 2002, Madden was subsequently convicted of stock manipulation, money, and securities fraud.
As well as earning Madden a 31 month jail sentence it also won him some celebrity notoriety as the episode was re-created in the movie ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ with actor Jake Hoffman playing Madden.
Now middle-aged and stuck in jail Madden finally decided it was time to settle down and so he started courting Wendy, his Director of Operations whom he married when he was freed, and together they started a family.
Most of the footage that Patterson uses of Madden at work is of the present time, when in his chaotic offices that are piled high with discarded samples, he bawls at his team to keep enforcing his belief that he only knows best. However unable to legally be an officer of the company, there is now a very young C.E.O. Edward R. Rosenfeld who leads the business whilst Madden remains the head of design.
In the years following his release the company’s success and profit soars which Patterson (and Madden) would have us believe is down to only one man. However it is clear to others that the days when businesses like this were run by autocratic megalomaniacs are well and truly over, even if Madden will never accept the fact.
Although we occasionally see hints that not everyone was enamored with who the rather unlikable Madden really is, but Patterson trod rather sycophantically and was far too careful in presenting his subject in such a sympathetic light. It’s a an intriguing film, but a wasted opportunity nevertheless and at the end of the 90 minutes we felt a little like the people at the beginning who were were unable to answer the question ‘who is Steve Madden’?