With long, bright red nails and outfits that evoke Bettie Page, 36-year-old Maayan Zilberman doesn’t look like someone who spends hours hunched over a stove. But she does. Before settling on her current role as candymaker, Zilberman was a sculptor, lingerie designer and brand consultant. Her candy line, Sweet Saba, is sold through a roving pop-up—currently in The Standard Hotel and previously in the pop-up Fort Gansevoort. The candies themselves, nestled in felt-lined jewelry boxes, are like precious objects from the future.
Her edible creations—cassette tapes with titles like “Old School,” brightly hued lipsticks, wristwatches, sunglasses and faceted gem-like baubles—would be equally at home in your mouth or on your desk, where a salted watermelon crystal might await your decision: to eat or not to eat. But rest assured, Zilberman expects you to taste her candy.
Last year, while learning the tricks of the trade on YouTube and pondering what to make, Zilberman recalled a dream that she had when she was 12. “I had all of these mixtapes and I dreamt that I buried them in the backyard and they turned into candy. I decided to make things that are ethereal and will go away. They dissolve, literally, into syrup. I like the poetry of it. It starts with something magical and then turns into something more streamlined.”
So the artist posted playful photos on Instagram and started accepting small requests from people who found her. Then the jobs started rolling in. She made sunglasses and lipsticks for W Magazine’s Golden Globes after-party and lined up several commissions for New York Fashion Week. For designers Alice & Olivia, Zilberman made “Crazy Kindness Pills” and for Adam Selman, whose show was influenced by pulp films from the ’70s, she made evidence bags filled with blood-spattered champagne- and rose-flavored candy. Not limited to fashion objects, the artist recently created to-scale railroad spikes for the High Line’s annual gala.
Sugar, real (not high-fructose) corn syrup and flavorings—the ingredients Zilberman uses—are the workhorses of candy-making. “That’s the only thing that lends itself to looking the way it does and gives it a high shine,” she points out. “Anything that is better for you ends up looking like a brick of clay.” But this isn’t candy you eat by the box—it’s candy you savor or gift.
While the base ingredients are standard, her flavorings are not. Working with a flavorist she met on Instagram, Zilberman spins unique blends, like Tropical Treeclimber (coconut, pineapple and arnica) and Jetlag Actually (rosemary and melatonin). The salt in the salted Watermelon? That came from Maui. “When I travel, I like to bring ingredients back from wherever I am. I like to find it myself and design what the candy looks like based on my experience. It’s more narrative that way,” she says.
Zilberman’s formative years were spent on a kibbutz in Israel and then in Vancouver, where she continued in a strict religious upbringing. Despite that, the precocious teen had her eyes set upon other places. “I am the polar opposite of everyone in Vancouver. Everything was grunge, and everything glam was frowned upon; it’s part of the reason I moved away,” she recounts. At 15, she graduated from high school and moved to upstate New York to attend Alfred University, specializing in ceramics. It was her first foray into transformative heat.
She moved cities and schools often, always hewing to sculpture, never staying for long. Eventually she landed in Italy for an artist residency. When she wrapped up that year, she had one of those life-changing moments: Friends with a lingerie brand asked her to join them as their designer. Despite not having any training, she said yes. The line did well and moved her to start her own undergarment brand, called The Lake and Stars. Eventually she and her then-partner folded the brands, and from there she moved on to spend two years as creative director at Frederick’s of Hollywood.
To know Zilberman’s background is to understand how Sweet Saba is both candy and art. “I get much of my inspiration from keeping my senses awake while walking through delis, pharmacies, old urban neighborhoods, places of worship,” she says. “I get inspired when I’m traveling, of course, but opening your eyes in New York City, you find so much right in front of you.”
With her company not even a year old, Zilberman is already planning ahead. Her vision is to have a product that has both healing and medicinal properties—a nod to her grandfather, who was a doctor. She called him Saba.
“I love the fantasy of space travel and future food,” she says. “A drop that will make your throat better, or your headache go away, or relieve anxiety. Things that you eat that can heal you.” It’s about time pharmaceuticals got more than just a sugar coating.