SHANGHAI — The Prada Group has unveiled its latest restoration project: Rong Zhai is a restored mansion in downtown Shanghai, which will be used as a multipurpose brand and cultural space.
As well as reshowing Prada’s resort 2018 collection and inviting a select group of influencers and celebrities — including director Baz Luhrmann, actress Zhang Ziyi, model Liu Wen and artist Cao Fei — for an intimate dinner at the mansion on Wednesday, the doors of Rong Zhai were thrown open to 1,000 guests for a cocktail party on Saturday night.
The evening included a performance by actor and musician Ansel Elgort, the face of Prada L’Homme fragrance, and among the guests were Du Juan and Alexander Wang.
The unveiling of Rong Zhai — the name translates to “Rong House” — comes following a six-year renovation. Miuccia Prada and her husband Patrizio Bertelli, chief executive officer of the Milan-based group, are not new to such initiatives of preservation. They have supported the restoration of Milan’s 19th-century luxury shopping arcade Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Palazzo Ca’ Corner della Regina, an opulent Baroque palace on the Grand Canal in Venice that was reconfigured as an art space for Fondazione Prada.
“The first question people ask is why Prada is doing this?” Bertelli said. “We want to do it because we want to give an identity and pride that goes beyond a fashion brand. When it came to [doing a project like this] in the Chinese market, we thought about our Prada brand identity and what fits with our past, but also our present. So we grasped the opportunity and here we are today.”
Located close to Prada’s Plaza 66 store on the shopping thoroughfare West Nanjing Road in a street of low-rise buildings, the 21,500-square-foot villa was built in 1918 and also features an expanse of garden, a rarity in downtown Shanghai, overlooked by terraces and balconies on the south side of the mansion.
Those terraces once connected to the second story bedroom of Yung Tsoong-King (also known in Mandarin as Rong Zongjing), a flour, textiles and banking magnate who built the home to accommodate his large family. Rong had 11 children, the youngest two born in their mother’s powder blue bedroom with views over the street’s leafy canopy.
As well as playing host to business and political dignitaries of the day, the Rong house was renowned for its blowout parties, with the ballroom — complete with a spectacular stained-glass skylight — hosting a rotating roster of Swing bands that would accompany festivities lasting up to 48 hours at a stretch.
John Yung, great-grandson of Rong Zongjing and grandson of H.C. Yung, the last living child of the “Flour King of China,” now 94 years old and living in Hong Kong, was on hand for the opening and said the restoration of the home meant a great deal to his grandfather.
“My grandfather came in September and it was a very emotional visit, for him to see how the house was transformed was very important for him. We have visited a few times before when it was an office building [and] it was sad because it wasn’t in great shape, so he was very happy to see the renovation,” John Yung said.
According to renovation specialist Roberto Baciocchi, who oversaw the Rong Zhai project and whose brief was to remain as true to the building’s origins as possible, the villa wasn’t in good shape when they started work in 2011, but it was easy to see the elements that made the mansion special, including spectacular stained glass, brass fittings and tile work.
“This building was constructed in a historic period, a period of cultural change and internationalization, [the period] was a door for Eastern culture to welcome Western culture,” he said.
“It was a great effort to find the original materials, but the biggest effort was communicated between our staff and the Chinese artisans. But once we overcame that challenge and everyone understood the quality we were looking for, we were able to work together toward that common goal without translators.”
From Oct. 17 to Nov. 12 the house will be open to the public, so Shanghai’s people can see the restoration, as well as an exhibit documenting Prada’s other architectural and restoration projects.