“Eye of the Tiger” blasts in the background at New York City’s Milk Studios as Steve Madden and Caroline Vreeland channel their inner Rocky. The footwear giant is giving the budding talent some boxing tips during their Andy Warhol-inspired photo shoot while the two playfully spar in Everlast shorts and gloves.
This summer, the great-granddaughter of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland was tapped as the brand’s new face, and like Madden, she is unapologetically herself.
With icy blue eyes, blond tousled hair and an electric personality, Vreeland is a knockout in the striking fall ’17 global campaign. The ultimate cool girl — who recently had a spot on the Fox music drama series “Star” — takes off the gloves to discuss fame, fashion and music of the moment.
Caroline Vreeland: What are five things we don’t know about you?
Steve Madden: “I love country music, I’m a big golfer, I love history, I love the Bangles and I’m a big reader.”
CV: What’s on your summer reading list?
SM: “I’m reading a book about Paul McCartney. I’ve read so many Beatles books. I need a good novel.”
CV: “Well, I only like fiction.”
SM: “You probably read some obscure books.”
CV: “I do.”
SM: “I’ve tried some of those books. I love a good novel. It’s hard to find. Actually, the best novelists were the Russians. I’ll tell you a quick story about Russian novels. When you’re in prison, there’s something called the hole, solitary or the SHU, and it was always good to have a Russian novel like ‘War and Peace.’”
CV: “The SHU! ‘Orange Is the New Black’ is my only reference.”
SM: “That’s true. They actually got it right — believe it or not — and I love that show.”
CV: We hit it off from Day One. What are some similarities you see between us?
SM: “We are both people persons. Like a true diva, you’re aware of where you are. A true diva walks into
a room and knows everything that’s going on within three seconds. You’ve got the whole room figured out, and that’s [you]. The word ‘diva’ gets a bad rap. But you’re a nice diva as opposed to the ones who need their green M&Ms only.”
CV: I would say another similarity between us is that we stay pretty true to who we are. Do you think we get heat for that?
SM: “Well, the more successful you get, the less backlash you’re going to get.”
CV: “Give a young girl some wisdom about how I can maintain who I am.”
SM: “It’s an asset to be nice wherever you can be.”
CV: What are your thoughts on fame, and how important is it for you?
SM: “I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Justin Bieber or Drake or [George] Clooney, so that kind of fame is one thing.”
CV: “You have a very distinctive kind of fame. You may not have photographers outside your house per se, but you have a household name.”
SM: “Yes. I always say [my level of fame] is like a writer. A good writer has a following. And it’s very good and respected. It’s one of those things, if you don’t get on the fame bus, you’re all good, but once you’re on the bus, it’s never enough. And you’re like, ‘I’m not as famous as this one and that one.’ So it’s like what Kierkegaard said — all depression stems from comparison. Once you’re on that trip, it’s no good.”
CV: How do you stop comparing yourself with others?
SM: “You just can’t do it. It’s a losing game.”
CV: You chose to make your line your name, so there is something in that, right?
SM: “Yes, well, it’s a contradiction, right? I want to be famous, but I don’t want to be too famous. You do and you don’t. At the end of the day, it’s an inside job, so it doesn’t really matter.”
SM: “How do you feel about your own level of fame?”
CV: “Well, working with a prestigious man like [you] has amplified things. But I still wash my laundry in the laundromat. I live a strange dichotomy because I’ll be in Paris for Couture Week, seeing all the amazing shows, but then I’m still the girl who has a broken-down [Toyota] Prius and lives in her one-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz, [Calif.]. I like having the mixture. Hopefully, no matter what happens with the trajectory of my career, I’ll still be doing my laundry in the laundromat.”
SM: “I get it. I like that. Doing things yourself. We are who we are at the end of the day.”
CV: “100 percent human.”
SM: “With insecurities.”
CV: How do you think that translates to who the Steve Madden girl is?
SM: “I actually think it does translate. We make great shoes at great prices and great value. I love to see a Céline-wearer wear Steve Madden. It’s so sexy. I don’t expect all the shoes to be Steve but to mix them in — I think it exudes so much confidence.”
SM: “Let’s talk about your family and legendary great-grandmother, Diana Vreeland.”
CV: “In my early 20s, I hadn’t embraced the fashion side and acting. I was only strictly music- focused, and I was averse to having the Vreeland thing be my thing because I wanted to make a name for myself on my own. And then I realized what a fool I was. It’s such an honor. It has opened a lot of doors. Once I embraced it, I realized the immense power and the beauty of it. She gives me courage, and she makes me feel like nothing is off limits. I really feel her fire.”
CV: Do you consider yourself a fighter?
SM: “I would say warrior. It’s a tough world.”
CV: “I consider myself a fighter. It appears glamorous on social media and being in all these fabulous places, but every day I have to fight too, and, I mean, it sounds crazy. The whole thing with body shaming has been huge lately. A lot of brands aren’t really as willing to embrace different body types. I think they say they are, but I’m not really sure if that’s true. It’s hard. Your inner voice is telling you to fight it. Stay true to who you are. Don’t change who you are to work with certain people and do certain things, but you falter a little bit. You have to keep that voice really strong.”
SM: “It occurred to me that I’m sort of on the other side. Not quite, but I know what it’s like to come up. I used to feel like I wanted to put war paint on before work, and I still feel like that sometimes, but a little less so now. I still wear combat engineer boots because it makes me feel like I’m going off to do some heavy lifting.”
CV: Do you think that will change?
SM: “It’s changing. I kind of won in that way. We’ve done it for a long time. I wanted to be the biggest and the best, and we are close. I didn’t think we’d get here, so now it’s a different thing. It’s saying, ‘What is my role? How can I add value?’ I’ve got all these great young people that I work with that are smart.”
CV: “Your latest endeavor has been the record label. So that’s exciting. And we’ve bonded over that, obviously, because we want to see ourselves working in that capacity, too.”
SM: “Yes. There seems to be a sound that’s commercial today.”
SM: “What’s your sound?”
CV: “I’ve been all over the map. I’ve written four albums, but none of them have been right, so they’ve never come out. I’ve done sort of the female singer who sounded like Muse. I’ve done a Black Keys thing. I’ve done a FKA Twigs kind of trappy thing. And now that I’ve taken a step back, I think we all think we are really infallible. Everyone says you have to find your sound and your voice, literally. I would say, ‘I know what I am,’ and I don’t think I knew. Now, for me, it’s the blues.”
SM: “The search is interesting, though.”
CV: Do you think the music and fashion industries are different?
SM: “I think there are a lot of similarities. Trying to make hits for the public, and of course there’s always something that comes out of left field that is great and no one expects it. I like the Latin [genre].”
CV: “There’s a wave going on right now. ‘Despacito’ [by Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber]. There’s an organic, cultural feel to it that we can latch on to, and it feels good.”
SM: “I was listening to Prince Royce, and I was like, ‘I’d love to make music like this.’ Then all of a sudden ‘Despacito’ comes out, and it’s the No. 1 song in the world.”
CV: “If you really listen to it, it sounds so traditionally Latin. It doesn’t sound like a pop song. Touching on fashion and music, though, because I’ve been asked that a lot: Music is my passion, but fashion is in my blood. I struggle with this, too. There have been brands that haven’t wanted to work with me because I’m a little out of the lines or not too buttoned up, so to speak. And I think when the music hits and you are an artist who is true to yourself — that translates, and then brands want to f**k with you because you’re you. Think about Saint Laurent. Everything is rock ‘n’ roll. Do you think those rock ‘n’ roll renegades could show up to a show and get it in before they were big? No, but fashion follows music, I think.”
SM: “But there is a sameness right now that’s a little boring in music. That’s why ‘Despacito’ is so fresh. And it’s the same with shoes. Steve Madden is on a bit of a roll. We did some different things, and it’s good because [humans] are such a herd.”
CV: We are probably the opposite of going with the herd, right? That’s why we found each other.
SM: “But you do tend to do that because you think you can’t do this or that. I’m older; it’s harder to take risks. When you’re young, you’re fearless, but when you get a little older [you get more fearful]. I didn’t give a f**k what anybody thought. I did what I wanted.”
CV: Does age hold you back?
SM: “La lucha continua — the struggle continues.”
CV: “Oh, I thought it was going to be the shoe must go on.”