Israeli Lingerie Designer Hits Sweet Spot With Fashionable Candy

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DESIGNER CANDY: Crystal and lipstick-shaped candies are among Maayan Zilberman's creations.
DESIGNER CANDY: Crystal and lipstick-shaped candies are among Maayan Zilberman's creations.Credit: Sweet Saba
Shachar Atwan
Shachar Atwan
Shachar Atwan
Shachar Atwan

Sugar-spun handcuffs for use in the bedroom and a champagne-flavored candy shaped like a gold Rolex watch are just two examples of the many unique sweets for adults created by Maayan Zilberman. She designed lingerie for many years, and now her adult confections have aroused interest in both New York – where she lives and works – and outside the Big Apple, too.

Her confections come in some 30 flavors, including mother’s milk (which she says is mostly made out of cream). During New York Fashion Week last month, she designed candies in the shape of jewelry, which were given out at the show of designer Adam Selman. In January, meanwhile, she served lipstick- and sunglasses-shaped candies in fruit flavors at a party held by fashion-culture magazine W after the Golden Globe Awards.

The price for these luxury candies is most definitely not cheap, costing between $10 and $75 apiece.

Zilberman launched her candy brand toward the end of 2015. Its name is Sweet Saba, in honor of the close relationship she enjoyed with her late grandfather (saba in Hebrew), who spent quite a lot of time with her in the kitchen (or “the lab,” as she calls it) dreaming up “fantastic and transportive” meals.

Zilberman, 36 and originally from Israel, has had two pop-up stores in Manhattan to date, with another temporary store set to open in New York soon. She also sells to customers all over the United States, Japan and Europe through her website. In addition, she is now negotiating to open stores in Los Angeles, Japan and Tel Aviv. She spoke with Haaretz via a video link from her apartment in Brooklyn.

QUITE THE SPECTACLE: Some eye-catching Sweet Saba candy. Credit: Sweet Saba

Dead Sea crystal candy

In addition to Sweet Saba, she is currently developing an new initiative, Nonsense Medicinals, with a friend from Los Angeles. This involves making candies that include medical marijuana products. She is also working on a television show that will combine journeys with national or ethnic candy traditions.

Among her sweetest hits are watches that contain edible 24-karat gold dust and colorful crystals. Of the latter, Zilberman says she was looking for a subject to tie the store together in order to deliver a clear message, so she thought about a store of cosmic crystals. She traveled all over California and collected crystals, made molds from them and then turned them into candies.

With the help of a food technologist, she then developed a wide range of flavors, including honey and bee pollen, almonds and one with the taste of the Dead Sea. Recently, she started adding vitamins and food additives to create special compounds – for example, a crystal that contains rosemary and melatonin as a hangover cure.

Zilberman baked creative cakes for friends and acquaintances’ special events for many years, but says she had no special knowledge or experience in making candies. She didn’t use any cookbooks as references, but says that when she wanted to try making statues from sugar, she simply typed it into Google. Then, like nearly everything else in her business, she learned how to do it by studying YouTube videos.

DESIGNER CANDY: Crystal and lipstick-shaped candies are among Maayan Zilberman's creations.Credit: Sweet Saba

Zilberman was born in Israel to a Swiss father and Canadian mother who met when they both volunteered on a kibbutz in the 1970s.

Until the age of 3.5 she lived on Kibbutz Degania Aleph, in northern Israel. After that, the family moved to Canada and after seven years moved back to Israel, where they lived in Jerusalem. In 1992, the family returned to Vancouver and after three years there, at the age of 15, Zilberman went to learn ceramics in college in upstate New York. She subsequently moved to New York City, and has stayed there ever since.

She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan with a degree in sculpture, and in 2000 was active for a short time as an artist: She drew and sculpted, and often integrated textiles into her works.

She spent a much longer time designing lingerie. After college, she did a residency for textile artists at the Antonio Ratti Foundation in Como, Italy. After returning to New York, the two partners who created the Zoe lingerie line invited her to join them and work as a fashion designer.

“I remember thinking that I wasn’t not a designer by training but that it was worth trying it anyway,” she recalls. “When you’re young, you have nothing to lose.”

HEAVEN'S KITCHEN, N.Y.: Maayan Zilberman with some of her confectionary concoctions. Credit: Danny Ghitis/NYT

This is how her career as a designer started, and she started building a reputation in the world of lingerie. She admits to making some mistakes at first, because she didn’t know the business, but later enjoyed great success.

The lingerie brand that she and two partners established in 2001 was sold a few years later to The Gap. And in 2007, she founded another brand, The Lake & Stars. With a partner, she ran it until 2013. It was a sophisticated line of undergarments that blurred the line between lingerie and outerwear. For example, they made a jockstrap for women that they dubbed the “jockstraplet.” Her designs began selling at Barneys New York and Net-a Porter.

Her big break came when her designs featured in the two “Sex and the City” movies (in 2008 and 2010, respectively). Overalls and a shirt that Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw character wore in the first movie brought her a lot of attention – and sales. This also led to a collaboration and joint collection between Zilberman and the fashion designers at H&M, plus other collaborations with Urban Outfitters and Kate Spade.

Looking back, Zilberman attributes a lot of her success to what she calls “Israeli chutzpah.”

Patricia Field, who was in charge of costume design for the “Sex and the City” TV series and movies, asked for independent designers to send her a few items of their work to consider for the movies, recounts Zilberman. “I remember that as a young and small brand I thought to myself, ‘I won’t send her a few designs. I will send her the entire collection, and I will take it there personally and make sure they chooses something from it,” she says.

And that’s what she did. She came to the meeting with Field with a full stand of clothes – and was the only one who did.

“Because I was friendly and pleasant, they invited me in to meet with Patricia and fit the collection on Sarah. I believe they chose us because this experience was more personal, but she also wanted to promote young designers. It was part of the show’s agenda,” she says, adding, “It was the sort of small decision you make that changes your entire career.”

Later, she and her partner were forced to rethink their business model before expanding commercially, and they felt they had reached a dead-end. Zilberman says when they understood that in order to expand they had to design things for broader tastes and lower the cost of the lingerie, they understood there was no reason to continue. “We would lose our voice,” she states. And so, in 2013, only a short time after deciding to mothball the brand, she began working as artistic designer for the legendary lingerie brand Frederick’s of Hollywood.

NEVER MIND THE ROLEX: These watch candies feature 24-karat gold dust.Credit: Sweet Saba

While she was working for Frederick’s, Zilberman began to conduct the artistic experiments in her own kitchen.

“At some point, I wanted to go back to creating art,” she explains. “But I didn’t have a studio I could sculpt in with all the tools or materials needed for it.” In the meantime, she decided to simply start doing all sorts of small works in her own kitchen at home, and that’s how the first sugar statues were born, plus leaves of various shapes and sizes.

Whenever she’s interviewed about food – and she’s been interviewed a lot lately, in The New York Times and Vogue, as well as websites such as Business Insider and Refinery29 – she’s asked about her food and cooking background and experience. She admits she’s always embarrassed to explain that she doesn’t really have any.