The Candy of Your Dreams Actually Exists
by Emily Gaynor
Portrait: Atisha Paulson
Valentine’s Day can conjure up some pretty divergent thoughts depending on how you feel about the holiday. For some, it’s a festive day filled with (too much) candy and (just enough) love (whether that be with a SO, friends, or family). For others, Valentine’s Day exists as a negative reminder of what you might not have. At Milk Makeup, we’re taking the positive parts of V-Day and running with them. Whether you choose to acknowledge the Hallmark aspects of the day or not, we think it can be a great time to shoutout your crew, gift people who make your life a bit better, and take a moment or two for yourself. The Milk Fam got together to share who makes them glow, but we also linked up with rad people who have shaken up their respective V-Day-related industries to get their perspectives on the saccharine-filled 24 hours. As it turns out, V-Day has evolved in a pretty cool way. First up, whimsical candy-maker/artist Maayan Zilberman.
MMU: How did you start Sweet Saba/get the idea to turn your industry on its head?
Maayan Zilberman: I had a lingerie business for many years. I was also the creative director of Frederick’s of Hollywood. When you’re scaling a small business, or working with a larger business or creative job, your hands often get further and further from making the actual product the higher you go. I was fulfilled with conceptualizing and branding ideas, but I was far from making garments and touching stuff. I started making candy on my own for fun at home. Word spread over the course of a few months that I was making candy sculptures. People wanted them custom-made for press, events, and editorial. I did a short analysis thinking about how much I would have to make and how often for it to be a viable business. I figured out that I didn’t have to be tied to working in fashion or consulting. I could switch over to doing this full-time. I would be able to make things with my hands and be closer to something immediate. As opposed to lingerie, which has an 8-10 month lead time.
I went to art school for ceramics. A lot of what I do now uses the same techniques as sculpture and jewelry making. I then got a degree in fine arts and sculpture at SVA. I don’t have a background in cooking. I did a lot of baking for awhile, but I don’t have traditional cooking training. I don’t have restaurant experience. I just had my two-year anniversary for my candy business.
MMU: What has been your biggest career milestone?
Maayan: In this business, I’ve been able to collaborate with so many more artists than I would have if I had stayed in fashion. Candy is so tangible and has a magical appeal. It’s easier to connect with designers and artists on ideas. I may not have one particular milestone, but the best bonus of switching gears is being able to collaborate. Perhaps my biggest, most recent milestone may be small, but it’s very significant. I did a collaboration with Linda Fargo of Bergdorf Goodman. We worked together on a gift bag of cock rings that are edible, with edible gold on them. We call them “bedroom bracelets.” Linda and I were talking about what is in my range and we discussed how we could have fun for holidays while talking in her shop. She asked me if I could do cock rings. I said I can really do anything you want to put in holiday gift. The fun of having your own business is you can do whatever you want. If it doesn’t fly, then you don’t make it again. That was for this past holiday and we also have some available for Valentine’s Day.
MMU: How did you convince people you were doing something different/cool?
Maayan: It was organic. Because of the technique that I use to make all of my candy see through and magical, it draws people in and they’re interested. Candy is also nostalgic. But I approach it with a sense of humor and people notice that it’s different and that I don’t take it so seriously.
MMU: Was there ever a time when you thought you fucked your career up or felt scared about the direction of your future?
Maayan: I haven’t felt that with this business. I’ve had some other avenues that I’ve tiptoed down with regard to candy. I was developing an idea in medical marijuana space a few years ago. As it unfolded, I was worried that I’d messed up or it’d affect my overall business. For that avenue, it was about sitting back and waiting for compliance issues or laws to solidify. It’s a lot safer now. It’s cool that people were interested then. But as a business owner, you have to know when to sit back and let things move forward without you.
MMU: What does Valentine’s Day mean to you?
Maayan: Well, I’ve been in two industries that are Valentine’s Day related — sex and candy — and I say you can use them interchangeably. For me, it’s about a time of year. It’s when you’re supposed to stop what you’re doing and show your friends that you love them. To me, it’s more about friends than your partner. Partners should celebrate each other every day.
MMU: How do you celebrate?
Maayan: I give people candy. With my friends, we all get together, but it depends on who is around. Every year my boyfriend (now fiancé!) and I go to the Ladies Night R&B Super Jam. The first year we were together, he surprised me and took me there. We saw so many artists we were obsessed with in high school and it’s very romantic. It’s our favorite thing to do.
MMU: What are you giving your people for V-Day this year?
Maayan: For my friends, I make individualized candy boxes and I hand paint individualized messages on the candy. For my fiancé, I make a book for him every year. I like to think that when we’re old, he’ll have a whole shelf of books from me.
MMU: What does self-love mean to you? How do you practice self-love?
Maayan: I take more time to myself. I have a new studio that overlooks the sunset. Every evening, I make a point of taking time and watching the sunset. There’s something so magical about those 20 minutes. Any time I have my team here, we all stop and look out the window.
MMU: How does Sweet Saba stand out/be fresh for V-Day?
Maayan: It goes without saying that if you’re trying to be different, you’re trying too hard. I try not to claim safe techniques or the same old processes. I get rid of my tools every season and start over. My friend Brittany who does Brrch flowers gave me the best advice. She said, “Get rid of your old molds. Don’t use your old tools. Don’t rely on the things you use to do what you do.” To come up with new ideas, I do things the “wrong” way. I also wear my favorite dress in the kitchen or my favorite makeup even if no one is around. It makes me feel glam and inspires me when I have those things on. It doesn’t do any good to have them locked away.