In Conversation: Sweet Dani B
This Sunday, December 4, 12-4PM, the couture cookie master herself, Sweet Dani B, joins us for a Cookie Trunk Show! We chatted with the Emmy award-winning set and prop stylist about her career, living in New York City, and the real meaning behind her motto, “life is sweet.”
You started out as an prop and set stylist for Martha Stewart (another STORY visitor!) and went on to win an Emmy for your work. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got your start?
I was quirky, crafty, and creative pretty much out of the womb, doodling and drawing, making loom potholders, friendship bracelets, homemade birthday cards, and posters… pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I excelled in art throughout school, (I had an absolutely incredible high school art teacher) and was very lucky to get into Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) early acceptance. I look at those portfolio drawings now and have no idea how I did them.
Once at RISD, faced with picking a major freshman year, I had no idea what to do. I majored in Illustration because it was really the only thing I knew, but in that sea of amazing illustrators I pretty much came up as a C student every time. During the semester called Wintersession, we were encouraged to get out of our major and explore other arts… Fashion (which was a major I thought I might want to switch to until I tried pattern making), printmaking, painting, bookmaking, and photography. Photography got me very interested and I ended up minoring in it and incorporating it into all of my work. I’d still consider myself an amateur photographer as far as camera operation, but visually, it helped me develop as an artist in a way the other arts didn’t – I believe it’s the act of looking through the frame.
After college I waited tables for the summer (another amazing education entirely) while looking for a job. Thanks to the one computer class I forced myself to take on my way out the door at RISD, I had the qualifications to apply for a starter graphics position in the Men’s art dept at Ralph Lauren (where I met my husband, Keith, and where I would end up working for almost 10 years). Even though the job in the graphics department wasn’t super creative, being around the concepts and lifestyle stories at Ralph Lauren was something I had never experienced before. Just walking through the RL lobby every day was unreal but every season, every line had a theme and story and we would design story boards (using color and photography) for presentations, line openings, and in some cases were even used as selling tools. In the first five years I worked in Men’s Design, and the last five with RL Home, windows and store development team… Even though I wasn’t actually constructing the windows, helping put the manuals together that showed the visual team “how-to” was teaching me those things as well.
Once engaged and looking for a wedding favor, I so wanted to do a decorated cookie, but I was too intimidated. I had never baked a cookie in my life. My bestie Tamara turned up at our rehearsal dinner with a plate of simple heart cookie favors and said “you can do this” and that’s how we got started. She was working with Martha and we did our little cookie company on the side, figuring it out, taking small jobs and developing techniques to make it easier as we went. Martha even had us on the show to do a segment where we decorated our sheep cookie and used that and cookie cutters to decorate a Christmas tree. Tamara and I worked together on the cookie business for a while until she decided to go back to school for teaching. When a position opened up on the Martha Show in NYC she recommended me for it. After freelancing for a year, I got offered a position on staff as a stylist. The talent at the Martha Show was incredible – from staff to crew to celebrity guests and chefs… it was amazing. I learned new things constantly, and since we were the team directly styling the show, we interacted with Martha almost every day, getting her feedback on segments, setups, and recipe processes. Along the way, Martha heard about my cookies from a producer who knew I was still doing them. After doing a segment together, the producers asked me to pitch for all holidays. Martha began referring to me as their “resident cookie expert” and she especially loved my tip of using bottles for royal icing rather than pastry bags (which we eventually developed into my SDB expert icing kit).
In all these jobs I did my best to go with the flow, learned quick, worked hard, and soaked it all in. As a lover of quotes as mantras: “The journey is the destination” and “always do your best”.
What has drawn you to making the things that make occasions amazing?
Life is a gift. I am grateful for every day I wake up. I am sure to take note of the amazing moments of life – even the simplest ones. I can replay most of my big or wow moments in my head like a reel. I absolutely love designing parties around any occasion – small or big… wedding, birthday, new job, or just Friday pizza night… 4th birthday party or 40th… Every day should be celebrated. Also, have a cookie while you are at it.
Cookies just kind of showed up in my artistic path as a canvas… One of my professors at RISD once suggested I try children’s illustration – I could not get away from my drawing style and around all those serious artists I was so frustrated. Baking in itself is an art, and in looking at the art of decorated cookie making, it is a form of simple illustration – so it’s kind of an interesting evolution of that. Added bonus you get to eat them!
Your mantra is “life is sweet!” How does that philosophy extend beyond cookie-making?
I’ve always been a glass-half-full person. Even though I was bullied early on in high school, I always made it my business to be nice to everyone. “Always be the bigger person” my Mom told me. While that wasn’t and isn’t always easy, the truth is that the more love you give, the more you get, and that reward is sweet.
How does living in the NYC-area influence your creative process?
Growing up, NYC was always aspirational, and for me that is always inspirational. “Make it there, make it anywhere”
What’s one thing we can’t find out about you by googling?
I am incredibly messy – not dirty – messy. It is different. “Hurricane Dani” drives my husband crazy!
Favorite spot in NYC?
No matter the crowds, I make it my business to see the tree every year at Christmas because when you turn the corner of Rockefeller Center and see that tree glittering there, there is a feeling of magic and excitement. There is an energy in NYC that I haven’t felt in any other city, so it’s about fun moments at spots for me because there’s always a new amazing ‘you have to try it’ place. While I do love to try new places, I am also so good with my favorite old standbys… sharing a cappuccino and chocolate chip at City Bakery, or dirty martini happy hour at Black Door tavern, or grabbing the 5 Napkin Burger at the original 5 Napkin, or the burrata and cacio e pepe at Supper, or bibimbap and Korean BBQ at Bann. As a foodie I could go on and on about friends, food, and meet up moments and places. As incredible as the restaurant of the moment surely is, as I got older I realized it’s so much more about the company you keep and appreciating the good times you have together. Those moments and that time spent together are what fuels and inspires us… and NYC just happens to be the most incredible backdrop.