As a child, Hilary Liftin spooned icing sugar into water, mixed it together and savoured the intensely sweet paste. As a teenager, she and her best friend consumed jelly beans by the shovelful, making up with a conciliatory bag after a fight. And she knew she had found her true love not only because he gave her a stash of her favourite, hard-to-find Bottle Rockets, but because she felt comfortable eating the whole bag in front of him. (Guests at their wedding received gift bags of candy with accompanying toothbrushes bearing the couple's monogrammed initials.)
Not everyone can trace the events in life through specific candy, but Liftin can. Her new book, Candy & Me: A Love Story (The Free Press), is a collection of homages to different candy -- from Hershey's Kisses to the circus peanut, that curiously orange thing that's not quite marshmallow, not quite a jelly bean. There is trivia, reminiscing and growing up.
"It's my life in candy," she says. "I've been amazed at the response."
Her website, http://www.hilarylilftin.com, teems with testimonials (one woman had eaten six Cadbury Easter Cremes at once) and gourmet advice (like "S&M" party mix -- a bowl filled with Skittles and M&M's).
Adults everywhere are coming out of the closet with their sugar addictions. (Who knew that little Altoid mint would become the ultimate sex toy.)
But rather than pure nostalgia, it's grown-up. It's versatile, collectible and, when used as a colour strategy, bursting with style.
In the words of the Web site dailycandy.com (dedicated to breaking fashion trends) on the rerelease of Cadbury's original 1898 Beemans gum: "You'll look awfully fashionable pulling it out of your vintage Hermès bag."
Celebrities with candy fixations include fashion designers Zac Posen (salty licorice and gummi bears), Jil Sander (Kinderschokolade), Liza Minnelli (See's candy) and Sarah Jessica Parker, who told The New York Times that "eating candy in bed" is her ultimate guilty pleasure.
The iMac fuelled the sugar rush. Its design influence led to the break out of candy colours and shapes in things for the home, from jujube-hued soaps to cars.
And while they have been around for a while as a nostalgia trend, candy boutiques -- like Sugar Mountain, a store that opened in Toronto in 1992 specializing in hard-to-find and old-fashioned candy in jars -- have morphed into national chains with locations in every mall.
Designers working with candy include accessories designers such as Lulu Guinness. She has embroidered some of her pricey handbags with bonbons. Then there's Anya Hindmarch, whose beaded, gold Butterfinger clutch purse has been featured in the glossy pages of InStyle magazine.
Candy also hits the cocktail party circuit with regularity: Sophisticates wave mints layered in martini glasses and pontificate with candy cigarettes. This month, Martha Stewart Weddings features "Candy Shop Cakes," with one elegant, licorice bow-tied creation and another romantically held up with pastel candy straws.
Ground zero for obsessive sweet tooths is Dylan's Candy Bar, a New York shop co-owned by Ralph Lauren's daughter, Dylan.
A svelte young woman with a background in PR, Dylan Lauren originally conceived of a gallery dedicated to food art -- for design reasons, candy has always been popular with artists, from Andy Warhol to Burton Morris, whose work has decorated the set of Friends.
Instead, Dylan pursued something bigger when her business partner Jeff Rubin, the entrepreneur behind Toys "R" Us's Candyland and FAO Schwartz, came along.
Their concept defies categorization. Dylan's isn't only a candy store: it's a monument to the style element of candy. It stocks fashion items such as candy spa items (imagine soaps based on Swedish Fish), conducts art shows and has an after-hours room that is booked for parties by people such as Def Jam Records' Russell Simmons.
This fall, during fashion week, Lauren also hopes to display a collection of designer dresses cast in chocolate.
Lauren would like to become the Martha Stewart of candy. She's writing a book about tabletop candy decorating that will be released next spring. In the next couple of years, she's opening stores in the United States and, if all goes well, Canada too.
Lauren thinks her love of candy was probably sparked by her father's universe.
"I've always gravitated toward patterns and colours," she says.
"When I was younger, I loved when they showed swatches of coloured cashmere on the shelves. Only I always found that I wanted to eat the clothing -- it looked so yummy."
Her favourite candy tends to be mix-and-match pieces such as gummi bears, Hershey's Kisses and M&M's in exclusive colours.
"Most gummi bears only have five different flavours, but we have about 15. Which is one thing that makes the store unique. We'll make turquoise."
Liftin thinks that sophisticated candy, for someone like her, will always take a backseat to a cheap hit of something like caramel creams. That's why she loves candy.
"Savoury has a more sophisticated tinge," she says. "Some people say, 'I drink wine, I eat olives -- who needs candy?' I say, 'I drink wine, olives are okay -- why stop there?' "
These days, Liftin is more likely to be seen wearing Juicy Couture's "Live for Sugar" tank top around town than scarfing a pack of Junior Mints, although she admits to the occasional binge.
Candy's dark side -- the cavities, the potential weight gain -- once led her to consult a psychologist. The doctor suggested a nutritionist. "It's obvious to say that candy's bad for you," she says.
"Everyone knows about that. I think it's interesting to talk about how delightful it can be."
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