Ital­ian fash­ion house breathes new life into iconic gar­den villa

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By HE QI in Shang­hai heqi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A his­tor­i­cal gar­den res­i­dence in Shang­hai called Rong Zhai has been re­stored by lux­ury fash­ion house Prada and Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Roberto Ba­cioc­chi and is now open to the pub­lic. Due to the long queues of vis­i­tors wait­ing to view the house ev­ery day, the orig­i­nal one-month open­ing has been ex­tended to Dec 17.

Lo­cated on 186 North Shaanxi Road, the her­itage ar­chi­tec­ture was built in the years be­tween 1899 and 1910. Its first owner was a Ger­man who left China after World War I. The next res­i­dent was Rong Zongjing (1873-1938), a wealthy busi­ness­man from Wuxi, Jiangsu prov­ince, who was of­ten re­ferred to as the Flour King of China. Rong pur­chased the man­sion in 1918 and com­mis­sioned Chi­nese de­signer Chen Chun­jiang to remodel the prop­erty.

Rong and his brother Desh­eng were the ones who started the flour busi­ness in their home­town in 1901. By 1936, the fam­ily had owned 21 fac­to­ries in Shang­hai, Wuxi, Hankou of cen­tral China’s Hubei prov­ince and Shan­dong’s pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal Ji­nan. The fam­ily, which also owned a suc­cess­ful yarn pro­duc­tion busi­ness, was re­garded as one of the rich­est in the coun­try.

“When I was a child I al­ways heard my great-grand­fa­ther talk about life in the house,” said Rong Kangxin, a great-grand­son of Rong Zongjing.

“He said the house was al­ways used to host var­i­ous events and par­ties for so­cial elites, politi­cians, bankers and en­trepreneurs. Th­ese peo­ple would gather in our home to have fun and talk about pol­i­tics.”

How­ever, when the War of Re­sis­tance Against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion broke out across the coun­try in 1930s, Rong moved to Hong Kong, leav­ing the house va­cant for half a cen­tury.

In 2002, me­dia ty­coon Ru­pert Mur­doch rented the house and turned it into the Shang­hai of­fice of News Cor­po­ra­tion. The com­pany oc­cu­pied the prop­erty for nearly 10 years.

In 2011, Prada took over the res­i­dence. The fash­ion brand then en­gaged the help of Ba­cioc­chi, who was renowned for his ex­per­tise in his­tor­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, to re­store the prop­erty.

Restora­tion works spanned six years and the res­i­dence was un­veiled to the pub­lic in mid-Oc­to­ber.

Prada will also be us­ing the venue to host var­i­ous cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tions.

Rong Zhai is not the first his­tor­i­cal build­ing that Prada has had a hand in restor­ing.

The fash­ion house has also helped to re­pair the fa­mous Gal­le­ria Vit­to­rio Emanuele II, the world’s old­est shop­ping mall in cen­tral Mi­lan, and the Palazzo or Ca’ Cor­ner della Regina, a Baro­questyle build­ing in Venice.

Pa­trizio Bertelli, the CEO of Prada Group, said: “We hope to as­so­ciate our brand with his­tory and not just fash­ion.”

Bertelli ex­plained that Prada chose to re­store Rong Zhai be­cause of its dis­tinc­tive features that com­bine Western and tra­di­tional Chi­nese styles.

The prop­erty, which mea­sures around 4,200 square me­ters, com­prises a three-story build­ing with a floor space of 2,182 sq m and a sprawl­ing 2,475-sq-m gar­den.

Zheng Shiling, a his­tor­i­cal preser­va­tion expert from the Chi­nese Acad­emy of Sciences, said that Prada’s ef­forts to pre­serve the res­i­dence can be held up as an ex­am­ple for oth­ers to fol­low.

“The restora­tion of her­itage ar­chi­tec­ture is costly and re­quires great skill. It’s bet­ter that such build­ings are be­ing used by com­pa­nies and wealthy in­di­vid­u­als who can af­ford to care for it,” said Zheng.

“Th­ese build­ings should be opened to the pub­lic but the own­ers should dis­cour­age large num­bers of peo­ple from vis­it­ing at any one time so as to pro­tect the prop­erty.”

PHO­TOS BY GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Mem­bers of the pub­lic can view the newly ren­o­vated Rong Zhai from now till Dec 17.

Rong Zhai was once home to Rong Zongjing, who was known as the Flour King of China.

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