prada foundation
The exterior of Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai. Courtesy of Prada.

In the realm of fabulous, Asian-style edition, it’s hard to beat the new Prada outpost of cultural style in Shanghai. In the tradition of fashion houses merging with cultural space — The Foundation Louis Vuitton in Paris being the most notable example — this one shines. The base house of the extended mansion dates to 1918, with numerous additions required for an expanding family added over the years.

It’s located in the Jing’an district of Shanghai, not far from the PuLi House Hotel.

The current show, titled Storytelling, by painter Liu Ye, features a curated selection of thirty paintings by the 54-year-old artist created between 1992 and the present.  The whimsical and humor-filled paintings fuse together both Asian and European influences, bringing visitors inside the painter’s vivid imagination. The artist himself says that “every work is my self-portrait,” showing different aspects of his mind.

However, the real star of the show is the house itself. Having been meticulously restored over the last six years, it is something to behold. It is clearly Asian, but from a time of building in direct reference to grand European homes. Fine tile work, ornately carved wooden staircase, and an array of rooms and floors built up over the course of a few decades.

Then there is the matter of getting in. You will need a reservation. But that can only happen if you use WeChat, which unless you do a lot of business in China, you probably don’t have.  This is not so simple, assuming you are not a local, as the entire process will happen in Chinese. If all else fails, you can simply show up, hope there is not a special event that day, and ask for help from the exceedingly polite Prada-draped staff.

Interior view of the newly restored Prada Rong Zhai in Shanghai. Courtesy of Prada.

There is something about the cultural expression of power that one gets from here — Chinese cultural power. We have all seen the Jetson-esque skyline of the Bund, and although they still amaze, spots like the Shanghai Airport and the marble-floored metro seem expected. What is not expected is the meta experience of an early 20th century Asian baron’s European-influenced home, having been remodeled by a European fashion house to please an upmarket Asian consumer of not just fashion, but of high culture. The world travels in circles.