If you like candy, Maayan Zilberman is about to become your new idol. A Fine Arts graduate, she worked in the fashion world for some years but couldn’t express herself creatively enough. Thus, she founded Sweet Saba, a studio that makes unique and mind-blowing sweets by hand. From lipsticks to jewels, to stacks of cash and precious gems, there is nothing Maayan can’t turn into a feast for the eyes that looks too cute to eat – although one of her aims is for people to detach from this sentimentality towards material objects. So do us a favour: cheat your diet, go grab something sweet, and enjoy the interview.
Hello Maayan, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I was born on a kibbutz in Israel and grew up for the most part in Vancouver (Canada). I moved to New York City as a teenager for Art School, and majored in sculpture – specifically ceramics. I’ve lived in this city for over twenty years now.
With a background in Fine Arts and as a founder of The Lake and Stars, a lingerie brand, how did the idea of creating candy come about?
I was tired of being so far away from making things with my hands. In fashion, you end up moving far away from actual creation as you get more successful and as your business grows, at least in lingerie. I would make a loose sketch of ideas for collections, then several months later we’d have fittings, but I missed making art and having immediate results when I had a concept. I started making sugar sculptures in my kitchen as a hobby and people started making custom orders. It wasn’t meant to be a life change at first, but it was so much fun I couldn’t help but force it into a business.
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Before you started Sweet Saba, you used to make extravagant and unique cakes to order, so I can confidently assume you have a sweet tooth. What is your favourite dessert, candy, or food?
I don’t have so much of a sweet tooth. I used to make cakes because I loved the challenge of building something structural that can be eaten and enjoyed in a celebrative setting; plus, sugar is so versatile it acts as a beautiful sculpture material since it is inherently a crystal. People react to sweet like they’re magic, and this I have always been fascinated by.I do have favourite sweets, though: I love Maple Fudge, Red Vines liquorice, and I am obsessed with collecting candy when I travel. One of my favourite stalls in the market in Madrid is where they have all the long gummy ropes. I have always dreamed of making a macramé artwork out of them.
Saba is the Hebrew translation for ‘grandfather’. Is the name Sweet Saba is an ode to yours and is he who inspired your gastronomic creativity?
Yes, I spent a lot of time with my saba growing up, he was one of the only people who understood and encouraged my unusual interests and curiosities. I love that my company name allows me to tell people about him on a regular basis, it’s a perfect way of keeping his memory alive.
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I’ve read that no piece of candy at Sweet Saba is alike. Is keeping everything hand-made and artisanal something important to you or would you consider outsourcing and industrializing the process as the company grows?
All of our luxury candy is hand-made from moulds I make out of artworks I carve out of clay, or from actual items like lipsticks or Rolexes. We also have a lower-priced line coming out by the end of year that is made off-site, more industrially.
The pieces of candy you create are, as you just said, replicas of Rolex watches, lipsticks, or precious gems; things that people usually keep very dearly and enduringly. Do you think any of your clients would rather keep your candy because it’s too beautiful to eat?
This is very common. I have heard of some clients framing the candy. My idea for this line, however, was to make precious items in a material that dissolves, to not be so precious about material objects and to let go of this sentimentality. But I’m flattered when people cherish the items, of course.
What’s the craziest piece of candy you’ve created?
I made hundreds of stacks of cash that were all hand-painted with Benjamins for an installation at Art Basel. It was a collaboration with a video game company called Rock Star.
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You’ve collaborated with Jimmy Choo and Delpozo as well recreating beautiful and intricate sweets. Do you have a dream collaboration?
I would love to collaborate with Raf Simons on an installation for Calvin Klein, or with IKEA. I’d love to make a kitchen/studio collection that is both stylish and accessible.
The company has only opened up through pop-up stores in the past. Do you ever plan on opening a permanent space?
We currently have an exclusive collection at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City, and the pop-ups have been fun thus far because it allows me to shift gears each time and do an entirely new theme. For a brick and mortar store, I would like to open one in the next couple of years both here and in Japan. We’ll see what the future holds!
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