With the reopening of the Cooper Hewitt last December, museumgoers can once again roam the halls of Andrew Carnegie's magnificent Upper East Side mansion—and now, thanks to a collaboration between the Cooper Hewitt and Warby Parker, they can even do it while sporting a pair of eyeglasses inspired by the mansion and its original owner.
Warby Parker decided to develop the new Cooper frames after its design team was given a tour of the renovated mansion and granted access to the Cooper Hewitt's archive, which included the original eyeglasses worn by Carnegie himself. Since everything turn-of-the-20th-century is now hip again, it wasn't too difficult to imagine the style appealing to today's consumer. "We were really inspired by the design aesthetic of eyewear during that time period, the early 1900s, late 1800s—very small, simple wire frames, which is something and that we already do a bit here at Warby Parker," says Shannon Malone, the company's director of product strategy.
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The team started sketching, first drawing designs in Illustrator to get a feel for the aesthetics, then moving to CAD for 3D files of the frames. Those files were sent to one of Warby Parker's partners overseas, who manufactured samples and sent them back to the team in New York. Although the Warby team knew that they would only be introducing one new style, they designed and prototyped more than 20 versions—all centered around Carnegie's original frames, but also drawing inspiration from the mansion itself. Pulling from the crown molding and other ornamentation found inside, the designers created a variety of embellishments, ranging from trimmings on the bridge that went further up the nose to heavy foil designs or filigree-type elements around the lenses. Finding an elegant balance between decoration and function proved to be the main challenge of the project, as many of the more elaborate features left the frames too distracting, or too heavy. After user testing, the team decided to abandon many of these elements in lieu of a simple approach, moving the primary detail to the temple arms.
"One thing that is important about this frame is that the shape itself be very wearable," Malone says. "When we get a series of samples in, we do what we call prototype testing, where we have people with different face shapes and sizes try them on to see how they look on them. It was really remarkable that [the Cooper frames] looked good on just about everyone."
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One of the details that did end up making it into the final design was a coil running along the arms of the frame, which was taken from another pair of vintage glasses Warby had in its office. In its original design, the coil was used to make the frames tighter around its wearer's head, but their purpose in the Cooper is purely aesthetic. "We just loved how it looked so much that we applied it to the temple on Cooper," Malone says. "The coil that we used is more sturdy so it's not going to bend [like the original], but it just looked really, really beautiful." The frames are made from a lightweight Japanese titanium in Heritage Bronze, a color inspired by brass details found in the Carnegie Mansion, and then wrapped in wire to create the coiled effect.
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Titanium castors, assembled with a soldering process, attach each piece. Screws are added afterward to hold the hinges and lenses in. Tortoiseshell acetate temple tips were inspired by the mansion's mahogany floors. Starting from a full sheet sourced from a family-run Italian factory, the acetate is then cut down to size and individually shaped to create the temple pieces. The final metal frame has a matte finish, achieved through rounds of sandblasting and polishing.
"Because we had so many types of details that we could use and that we liked, it was hard to narrow them down and make the frame simple, stunning, easy to wear and beautiful—but still using some of the design elements that we were excited about," Malone says. "I think we ended up doing a good job of picking design elements that really make the glasses wearable and pay tribute to the Cooper Hewitt and their history without going overboard." The frames were revealed during an event at the museum at the end of June, and are now available online starting at $145.