Lingerie on Film Profile
Maayan Zilberman, conceptual candy maker and founder of Sweet Saba, talks about her upbringing, creativity, and of course, candy.

This weekend we are excited to introduce you to Maayan Zilberman, founder of Sweet Saba, a conceptual candy company, and also one of this year’s Lingerie On Film contributors.  Below our conversation with Maayan about her beautiful hand carved one-of-a-kind edible creations.

 

 

Where did you grow up? How do you think this location has shaped you?
I was born on a kibbutz in Israel and grew up for the most part in Vancouver, Canada. We lived in Jerusalem for a short time when I was in middle school. In many ways it feels like that chapter of my life was much longer than it was in reality. I’m sure being an infant on the kibbutz made me independent, helped me problem solve, and take on inspiring projects. Moving to Canada as a kid had me feeling a bit like a fish out of water–I never felt comfortable in the cold and wet of the Pacific Northwest, and longed for sun on my face and dryness of the desert. Fashion and style were slightly tragic in these parts as well, growing up in the height of grunge and outdoor-chic was in such contrast to the high-gloss glam that I loved in the magazines. I dreamed of moving to NYC one day where I might meet one of my idols. This theme followed me around a lot, and made its way into my art later on.

 

Can you tell us about your upbringing and childhood?
My parents divorced when I was pretty little, around the time I started school in Canada. I had to navigate my way through explaining to kids on the playground who I was and where I came from. I always thought of my mom and I as a unit, I went everywhere she did. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but it didn’t matter so much because my favorite thing was being sent to my room so I could draw, make stuff, or daydream. I guess I mouthed off a lot at home because I wasn’t super afraid of the consequences. Our home was strict – education and discipline were valued above all else. We were observant Jews, went to synagogue every Friday and Saturday, and kept kosher.  I didn’t have an Oreo or bacon until I moved out, and boy was I ever bitter when I found out how delicious those things were.

 

What were you into as an adolescent? What were your ambitions?
I was super into the transformation of materials, things that varied in texture or purpose, like water freezing into ice, or honey crystallizing… even drying leaves or flowers and making potpourri. I had tons of shoeboxes full of projects like that in my room, each labelled like I was starting an archive. I also loved listening to music and recording songs off the radio. I only ever listened to music with headphones so I thought I was the only one in the world who knew about these songs. Of course I was shocked when I discovered some other kids at school would know about the same songs. Music was a really solitary experience for me, like making art or dreaming. I loved all the female rappers I heard on the radio. In 5th grade I remember the first time I heard the voice of a girl so strong, cool, and sexualized, and feeling a deep connection. Her voice spoke to me even though I had no idea what she looked like. When I ultimately saw pictures of some of my new idols, they were all wearing crop tops or thongs. I didn’t know at the time it was lingerie- but I knew it was something I was into.

 

Do you recall how or why you became a maker?
In terms of it being a hobby-turned-occupation, I think the first time I sold stuff I made was in 6th grade. I made Sculpey figurines for kids at school and they assumed I wanted cash for them. Someone else attached value to the act of my hands making something. Up until that point I didn’t realize that was a possibility. Why I became a maker professionally is something a bit more complicated, and something I’m still working out- it’s the eternal question… finding the reason why we do what we do.

 

How was creativity cultivated in your childhood?
I didn’t have a ton of traditional toys when I was a kid, most of my favorite things were tools meant for making artwork, so it was pretty easy to get into drawing and making things. On the weekends I would sit for hours drawing or painting with gouache (a set my Swiss grandma sent me, which I still use) Later in high school when we had drawing classes with a live model it felt so natural to work in long concentrated sessions.

 

Can you share a story about shooting your rolls?
For a long time I also had a lingerie line called The Lake & Stars- it’s actually how I met Araks back in the early 2000’s. It was a time before we used digital photography for everything, and it was definitely before we had phones with cameras. In my early days I used to do our lingerie fitting photos with disposable cameras into the mirror… It sounds hilarious, but looking back the photos are actually quite chic. I kept some of them, and they ended up being the inspiration for how I approached this photo project. Since a lot of our fittings were in hotel rooms in the garment district, I chose to wait for the hotel experience with one of my girlfriends to take the photos… It was fun reliving that experience of trying on lingerie and taking pictures with film that you couldn’t see right away.

 

What is your favorite shot, from your rolls and why?
My favorite shot is a picture my friend took of me using the disposable camera. It flashes me right back to those days when I did everything with that tool, and I was probably only ever wearing lingerie in those days too. When you work in the industry you end up doing fittings and then wearing it all day.



Was there anything that was surprising to you when you saw the film?

I forgot how vivid colors are when you work in film. Everything is so saturated, and your skin looks younger!

 

 

What was the transition from being a lingerie designer to a conceptual candy creator like? Are there any similarities in the creative processes behind each? How and why did you start making conceptual candy?

I stopped working in lingerie just over three years ago. I was at a point where I really missed making things with my hands that were a bit messier, or more immediate without relying on the use of other fabricators. I started experimenting with sugar at home to make small scale sculptures as a way to get back to my background as an artist. I really enjoyed the challenge of working with something both delicate and rigid in its chemistry. It reminded me of the early days of making lingerie.  I didn’t really understand how it worked until I had to go through the process of making it over and over and over again.

 

Do you have a history of enjoying making food or baking?
I do really love Bacon, but it’s not so much about food, it’s a lot more about experimentation and chemical reactions in the kitchen. I love transforming material, and approaching things from a new perspective with ingredients. I’m actually not a great cook!

 

What's behind the name "Sweet Saba?
I named the company after my grandfather who I miss very much. Saba is Hebrew for grandfather, and as a kid I used to spend time with him making things in the kitchen that were more like science projects than food.

 

You worked with a food technologist to develop several flavors including bubble gum, bacon, whiskey and mother’s milk. What are some of your favorite unexpected flavor combinations? 
Recently I did a collection of life-size pizza slices. Rather than making the candy taste like pizza we made it taste like doughnuts. I love when flavor is in direct opposition with what the work looks like. I also did a glass candy garden filled with both healing flowers and poisonous flowers. The “poisonous” flowers were made out of sugar and then tasted like sweet nectar. I loved the narrative of this, as guest would take one and eat it.

 

We love the sense of humor involved with your business. Can you share the most humorous piece you've done?
It depends on your sense of humor, but for my collaboration with Versace last year for the Met Costume Institute’s Catholicism themed Gala, we made giant rosaries. I loved the idea of people chewing on those.

 

What's your favorite thing about creating edible sculptures?
I love the delight people of all ages express when they discover that the work is candy and not plastic. That moment is always so pleasing to me. No matter where you’re from or who you are, you aren’t really immune to that emotion.

 

Are there any parts of the production process or details involved that you would like to talk about that you feel make your edible creations extra special?
I’m sure people don’t realize that I make all of my candy, and that the original for each piece is an artwork that I have carved out of clay with my own hands. Every piece is truly one of a kind. It’s a really lengthy process, but it’s worth it because it doesn’t look like Starbucks candy.

 

What does it feel like to create art that is temporal?
Part of the reason I started this project in the first place was to make things that were ephemeral. The first collection of candy I made was from molds that I cast of sentimental objects I had carried around with me for most of my life.


I liked the idea of making them edible, so you could share them with people and share those memories.


Conceptually, it was also a way of letting go of some of these belongings. Of course nowadays that idea is further away from the original concept, but each project I worked on now comes from that same place in my heart.

 

 

 

What is something you've loved for a long time?
I have always loved the desert.

 

What’s something you wish you knew how to do or that you’re currently trying to learn more about?
I wish I knew how to properly exercise. I have always valued physical strength, possibly because I’ve never really had it. I think if I felt physically stronger I would feel so much more capable of doing anything in the world. I remember when Madonna started working out a lot and doing yoga, and talking about feeling very strong. I think about that often.

 

What is the best gift you have ever given someone?
Unconditional love and an open door.

 

What is the favorite gift you have received? 
My mom gave need a set of tiny sculpture tools when I was a kid, I used them for ceramic class all through middle school and high school, and I traveled with them to New York when I moved here. I still use them as some of the primary tools in my art practice.

 

What is something that you feel is overrated? Underrated
Huge houses are overrated. A walk around the block is underrated. Sometimes the only prescription I need for a problem is just getting out of the building and walking around the block.

 

What are you terrible at but love to do anyway?
I love singing so much. I do a lot when I’m alone in the studio. My mom is an actual singer, and when I was a kid singing with her in the car I always thought that I sounded just like her because her voice would drown out mine. When I got older I realized that I didn’t sound like her at all… I was definitely horrified, but mostly just found it very funny.

 

Are there any parts of the production process or details involved that you would like to talk about that you feel make your edible creations extra special?
I’m sure people don’t realize that I make all of my candy, and that the original for each piece is an artwork that I have carved out of clay with my own hands. Every piece is truly one of a kind. It’s a really lengthy process, but it’s worth it because it doesn’t look like Starbucks candy.

 

Is there anything you could recommend to us?
I recommend using something from your closet that you haven’t worn in a long time, possibly because it reminds you of unpleasant memories, or because you think it doesn’t suit you know. Try wearing it out for one night, and see how you feel. Attach new memories to the piece and see what happens.

 

 

 

What is your favorite Instagram account?
@dswt The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust- last year we adopted a baby elephant orphan from here, and this year we adopted one for my mom for her birthday. I’m hoping that one day we can go as a family to visit them before they are released back into the wild.

 


What are you currently… 

Coveting? All the appliances on my renovation mood board… we’re about to renovate our house and I’m so excited for my new kitchen!

Watching? A while ago I watched every single episode of Law and order SVU, starting from current day going backwards to the first season. I just started Christiane Amanpour’s docuseries about love and sexuality in different parts of the world, and really enjoying it.

Listening? I just spent the week in LA listening to new Dipset album, and I listen to a lot of podcasts- Savage Love, Rupaul’s What’s the T, 3 Girls, 1 Keith, and of course all the Oprah shows.

Reading? All my baby books… I have a few months to go before I’m due and I forget everything I’ve read! I did love Godspeed, my friend Casey Legler’s new memoir. by Jill Lepore and Dreaming?by Rebecca Solnit

Dreaming? 
I keep dreaming I’m in the desert with lots of flowers that never dry out. It’s shimmery and quiet.

 

Thank You, Maayan!

All photography by Maayan Zilbermann

Follow Maayan~ @maayan.zilberman

Shop Maayan's Style Edit

 

 

Discover more Lingerie On Film profiles.

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Georgia Hilmer

Brittany Asch

Nathalie Agussol

Olivia Kim

Sonia Boyajian

Daphne Javitch

Lexie Smith

How the series began ~ A conversation with Araks