Shares of stylin' shoe maker Steve Madden (NASDAQ:SHOO) were off more than 8% in morning trading today, following news of lower-than-expected projections for Q4 and full-year 2003 sales and earnings. The news means more disappointment for Steve Madden investors, who've watched solid 2003 gains disintegrate since early December.

Has Steve Madden lost its cool? Today's announcement certainly clears up why the shares are going south now. The company said 2003 sales are coming in flat with last year's number because a decline in wholesale revenues wasn't offset by retail gains.

Steve Madden had to liquidate inventory in the second half, hurting gross margins and profits as it worked to clear out excess stock. It's now looking at full-year earnings per share at or below year-ago levels as a result. What's interesting here, however, is that many makers of more rugged and/or casual footwear fared well in 2003. We've discussed this in recent articles aboutDeckers (NASDAQ:DECK) andVans (NASDAQ:VANS).

Some of that may simply be a reflection of investor interest in profitable, growing small companies like Rocky Shoes & Boots (NASDAQ:RCKY), but it's also possible that we're seeing a move away from some of the looks -- like the "dressy sneakers" Steve Madden popularized -- that have driven business in recent years. (Steve Madden does have its foot in the sheepskin craze, but Deckers' Ugg brand really has 'em hopping.)

Interestingly, shares of competitor Kenneth Cole (NYSE:KCP) were up slightly, at last check today. The company is still standing behind its growth estimates for Q4, which it reiterated earlier this month -- but given the market environment Steve Madden describes, there's little doubt that investors are eagerly awaiting an update from this company as well.

Lace up a sensible pair and talk about the shoe business on our Steven Madden discussion board.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at