One crisp morning last month, shoe titan Steve Madden was ruminating over two sandals laid out on his desk in his factory in Long Island City, Queens: one black with a thin sole, the other creamy beige, its heel thick as sliced bread."I want this shoe to be on this bottom," he said, pressing the beige sole into the black top. "But my team is fighting me to keep it the way it is. I could go in there and say: 'That's it. We're making it.' But then I think to myself, we work together."He breathed an exasperated sigh. "I deal with this a lot," he said.Collaboration can be tough, sure -- but it beats sharing a jail cell, wondering if you can ever rebuild the life you've left behind.It has been a decade since Madden was sentenced to 41 months in prison for securities fraud (he served two and a half years) after a flameout fueled by drugs, alcohol and his love of money. He is now creative and design chief of the shoe empire he founded in 1990, having ceded the chief executive title to Ed Rosenfeld, a former investment banker at Peter J. Solomon Co.Yet Madden, 55, seems more central to the brand than ever. Rosenfeld said there was never any question of his returning -- indeed, it became a selling point in ads. And over the past few years, the company has prospered through acquisitions, strategic partnerships and nurturing of orphaned designers. In 2010, the company saved Betsey Johnson, buying her brand for $27.5 million, a bargain after her company was forced into bankruptcy (in an interview, she called him "Stevie Wonder").Madden has forged relationships with the Italian sneaker maker Superga, as well as with celebrity designers like Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. He also hired Kari Sigerson, who, along with Miranda Morrison, was fired in 2011 from the company the women founded.Madden said he is now sober. And rich: He said he is paid too much, earning $5.41 million in 2012 and granted $80 million in restricted stock. A longtime bachelor, he is now married to one of his former office managers and has 5-year-old twins and a baby on the way.But there is one thing drifting from Madden's grasp: relevance. Though his shoes may find their way into closets by dint of their sheer ubiquity, young tastemakers don't tend to tout the Steve Madden brand."I saw a thing, I think in the New York Post, about the top 10 style chicks that are 20 years old, and none of them mentioned my name," Madden said. "And I know they all grew up on my shoes. You would think that one of them would cop to being influenced by Steve Madden. It's really frustrating for me to see that."History in shoesMadden worked at a number of footwear companies before starting his own, opening his first downtown store in 1993. Wendy Ballew, now his wife, joined the company in 1992. A friend warned her to stay away from Madden, she said, because he was prone to outbursts (she recalled one day when he threw a boot that was the wrong shade of beige across the room, hitting a coffee pot) and he continued to party. But he had a certain charm."He's very honest and open and, at times, uncomfortably so," she said.When asked what motivated her husband in those days, she said "money."Steve Madden was onto something with his chunky-heeled boots and platform shoes, which appealed to a generation whose mothers and grandmothers wore stilettos. His breakout design was the Mary Lou, a big-toed Mary Jane-style patent leather shoe popular with fashionable teens.In prison, though, Madden softened."You can't even imagine," he said. "It is a unique painful experience that I had and I don't know how everybody reacts. I guess you get perspective, a different sort. I feel for things, I suppose." Mostly, though, he said, "I thought about surviving."Wendy Madden saw a longing for stability."On visiting day, everyone had their families around, children, wives," she said. "All he had were his employees."She and her boss wrote letters. "All of a sudden you are holding her hand in the visiting room and you don't know what is happening," Steve Madden said. "And you are stroking her hair."He proposed in November 2004, near a vending machine in the visiting room, dressed in prison khakis."Prison was so romantic," Wendy Madden said, beaming, as she flashed an emerald-cut diamond ring. Steve Madden said he bought it from a fellow prisoner's sister, who was in the jewelry business.Madden, who oversees a team of designers, had been disconnected from New York culture for some time."My impulse was to jump right in, but I had to lay back, watch, learn and see what needed to be fixed," Madden said. "So much of design is context."Last year, Madden renegotiated his contract to include two stock grants valued at $80 million (that will vest from 2017 to 2023, which means he has to stay to receive them). But he says that money is no longer the important thing in his life."I had this uncle, my Uncle Lolly," he said. "This real scholarly guy. He wasn't very successful in business but he had a nice family. A nice marriage. In my mind, he wasn't really a successful man, because that is how I was programmed. I was a better man if I made more money. That is not the case, but I didn't know that."