NY Times: Clothing Line? Perfume? No. For Sharapova, It’s Candy.

NY Times: Clothing Line? Perfume? No. For Sharapova, It’s Candy.

There was no way to cram all the publicist’s proposed talking points – Maria Sharapova’s stratospheric income, her stellar tennis record, her lucrative sponsorship deals, her popularity on Twitter, her charity projects – into the 10-minute interview slot. So the tough questions had to be asked upfront.

Like, how much Sugarpova candy does Sharapova herself eat?

“I used to eat a lot more than I do now,” she said. “In the beginning, I used to have it in my home, in my hotel rooms, to the point where it was nonstop. I was like, ‘Unless I need to give gifts to people, I’m not ordering it for my house.’ ”

Wimbledon starts next week, but Sharapova was taking time out from tennis practice to introduce London – or, specifically, Londoners shopping at Selfridge’s department store – to Sugarpova, the candy line she launched in the United States last summer. Surrounded by a cloud of minders, she was giving back-to-back interviews while a scrum of cellphone-brandishing shoppers who had won some sort of meet-the-celebrity competition waited for her to emerge so that they could take pictures to send to their friends.

It turns out there is a lot to say about Sugarpova, a company that Sharapova, 26, founded with an estimated $500,000 of her own money. (Her annual income, according to Forbes magazine, is $28 million.) It comes in 15 varieties in bags that have labels like Flirty and Sporty – the Spice Girls of the candy world. Bags cost between $4.99 and $5.99, and are sold mostly at department stores with high-end confectionary sections. “We’re not looking to be on the shelves next to the $1.99 candy,” said Sharapova’s agent, Max Eisenbud, who was hanging out in the hallway.

The candy comes in brightly colored shapes, including lips, handbags and shoes, and while most of it belongs to the gummy-sweet genre, there are also pink and yellow gumballs with cunning seams and rough textures meant to mimic the feel of tiny tennis balls.

Why not, say, sports drinks, power bars or something with even a tenuous connection to tennis?

“Everyone would have expected me to do something like clothes or accessories or perfume,” Sharapova said. “But I thought this was an amazing opportunity to do something unexpected.”

What is her favorite Sugarpova item?

“Quirky,” she said. “It’s a rainbow licorice on the outside and inside it’s like a soft marshmallow. I saw it in the factory in Spain going through the tubes, and it was actually a testimonial to new and different flavors they were working on. I said, ‘This is going to be part of my collection.’ ”

As is often the case with celebrities and their companies, it is impossible to gauge Sharapova’s exact level of involvement in the minutiae of her brand. She has been to the Spanish factory a couple of times, she said, and drew the shapes for the “Chic” line of gummy shoes and handbags herself.

“We went back and forth with so many different concepts,” she said.

Then there are the lips in the Flirty line. “I wanted to do something with lips,” she said. “I’ve always loved images of lips.”

Eisenbud concurred. “Maria had the direction that she wanted lips,” he said. “It was her vision.”

He said it was important that the product be upmarket, classy, not the kind of thing you might buy by the pound at the local multiplex on your way to see “Man of Steel.” It also had to fill a void in the market.

“You can get bears and worms anywhere,” Eisenbud said. “When you go to buy gummies, you see that the packaging is thin and cheap. There was no brand recognition in the gummy world.”

Sharapova is ranked No. 3 in women’s tennis, but she knows as well as anyone that sports careers are fragile. Once ranked No. 1, she was sidelined by a shoulder injury and has spent the last several years fighting her way back to the top. One day, she envisions a retirement from tennis filled with a Sugarpova empire of clothes, accessories, cosmetics, maybe candy-scented candles and bath products.

But that is for some nebulous time in the future. “Right now,” she said, summing up – the 10 minutes were over – “the important thing is to focus on my candy business.”