Candy queen Jackie Sorkin’s Candytopia opens Friday in Santa Monica for a four-month run.
For the more blasé among us, it would be tempting to dismiss Candytopia as a superficial fruit of the Instagram age. The pop-up is a candy version of The Museum of Ice Cream, the social media sensation that sold out its temporary exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami since its 2016 launch.
But, these judgements wouldn't be fair. For one, the origin story behind Candytopia might be just as fantastical as the candy-covered Sphinx sculpture within—six-feet long and made out of 22,000 gummy bears and black licorice pieces, by the way. The exhibit, which launches Friday in L.A.’s Santa Monica neighborhood, is the brainchild of candy stylist Jackie Sorkin in collaboration with business partners Zac Hartog and John Goodman. Audiences will recognize Sorkin from the 2011 season of TLC’s Candy Queen, a candy-centric cooking show that put her in front of international audiences. After appearing on it, she got approached to host pop-ups in Taiwan, China and all over Southeast Asia. They were a hit.
“Asia doesn't have the same candy culture as the United States,” she says. “They don't have the same palatae for sweets as we do.” Being able to see thousands of hard candies, then, all under one roof, and being able to taste hundreds of them, was particularly novel to those audiences.
And this was way before Museum of Ice Cream, by the way—not that it's a contest. “I am so, so happy for them,” Sorkin says. “I believe in girl power. When we saw their success, that told us it was time for us—and everything in business is about timing. I saw them on the Today Show, and I said, ‘This is going to be a monster hit.’ And people were like, nah. And I was right. I always listen to my feelings, follow my gut.”
Sorkin has since worked with celebs like Katy Perry and the Kardashians to create custom candy creations. It's still surreal for her. “I think it's surreal when you come from zero,” she says. “I didn't grow up like that. I was an obese child, and my parents didn't have a lot of money. I just feel so grateful for this world I'm in.”
When she was twelve, she discovered a camp for overweight kids in Pennsylvania and begged her parents to send her. They did. She ended up returning to Camp Pennbrook every year, and director Flip Shulman ended up becoming a life mentor of hers.
Still, she struggled with her weight into adulthood. “I could never get control of it,” she says. “I've always been up and down, up and down. 50, 60, 70 pounds. Skinny, fat, skinny fat.”
Sorkin can't put her finger on it, but something changed when her dad died three years ago—but something just clicked. “He was always like, YOLO. Live your life,” she says, wiping away tears. “This is all for him.”
“Maybe I fed the feelings and emotions with food for so long because I didn't know what the hell I was going to do in this world,” she says. “I had every learning disability growing up. I had a food addiction, and it's transferred into wanting to be needed and doing something meaningful with my life.”
And Candytopia is a testament to that: a gummy bear-covered, licorice-wrapped, Jelly Belly-studded ode to whimsy. To dreaming up ridiculous things. And a celebration of the very bane that Sorkin struggled with for so long, like so many of us do.
There are renditions of the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and a recreated sculpture of Rodin’s The Thinker, all covered in candy. Sorkin won't say what the base material is—she needs to keep some cards to herself—but some of the creations took upwards of 1,000 hours. She had the help of her team.
Everything in the space is meant to be touched; pieces don't often fall off, we were told, but when they do, Sorkin and her team are experts in candy statue repair.
Highlights of the experience include a dive pool of (fake) marshmallows; a steampunk-ish clock that lowers from the ceiling to reveal a spread of Lindt chocolates (you're encouraged to take one, or three); and an underwater-themed room filled with jewel-toned, candy covered sea creatures.
Tickets are $30 for adults and are sold for specific times, in 15-minute increments. The whole experience takes a half hour, give or take. You can buy tickets here.