Ital­ian fash­ion house breathes new life into iconic gar­den villa

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By HE QI in Shang­hai heqi@chi­

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.”


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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.