Mercura Eyewear founders Merrilee Lichtenstein Cohen and Rachel Cohen-Lunning sit down with HB’s Madison Mobley to talk about how they went from mini-designers to fierce eyewear mavens.
HB: How did Mercura come into being? What inspired the name?
MERRILEE/RACHEL: MERCURA SUNGLASSES NYC came into being when we first moved into the Hotel Chelsea in 1975, working together as a sister team. The name is a combination of our family and given names and mythology (MER = the sea, or mermaids, in French; for Merrilee, CU is the guttural part for Cohen; RA = Mediterranean for sun, or “sun worshippers” for Rachel) and NYC, of course, is our location. The name is the reflection of two daring young artists who knew of no other name like it in the world. We also knew it sounded very exotic. Our neighbor, an advertising executive, invented it while we planned to move to NYC.
Also, we really liked mythology. Mercury, the messenger, is so strongly identified with New York City, where the message is sent, and we have so many messages to send. The feminine of the Y is the A. In the 1970’s there were very few female eyewear designers – as a matter of fact, we cannot think of any others!
What makes Mercura so different from its competitors?
We never really even considered competitors; they just popped up at us. We thought about using little sculptures to be macquettes for organic buildings; the enameled metal sculptures we made could be airports or schools of the future. Frank Stella came after us with his enameled metals, and a decade later, we noticed local artists in Chelsea making big sculptures with the same feel in the same materials we used. Our eyewear still has the same organic sensibility of our early sculptures. Andy Warhol wanted us to make our works twenty feet high, and this may still happen.
We have always, most importantly and truly, wanted to decorate windows around the world in the images of our eyewear. This may be our next step, as opposed to simply manufacturing our work. It is impossible to manufacture our work.
Talk a bit about Mercura’s eyewear philosophy with respect to your use of non-traditional frame shapes.
We always wished to celebrate the individuality of people in all walks of life and create celebrity mystique. And, as you have said, “turn the person into a personality.”
Your products range from being very architectural in style to very whimsical and surreal. What frames have you found to be the most popular amongst your clients?
Each frame appeals to a different part of the wearers’ persona; there are no frames more popular than others.
Where can one typically purchase Mercura accessories? Do you have plans to mass-produce your products while still somehow holding true to Mercura’s art of customization?
One can typically purchases from us at this point. We can refer customers to stores in their neighborhood or around the world, but we have the biggest, most satisfying buying experience here in Chelsea. We are also happy to work with individuals through the internet worldwide to give them exactly what they need.
What is your vision for Mercura in the coming decades?
We envision MERCURA SUNGLASSES NYC fenestrations on huge modern buildings, MERCURA SUNGLASSES NYC building complexes, sculptures and, absolutely, eyewear still made by us!
All photographs by Eric Martin
Models provided by Hilory Beckford Management