|The West Villa houses Dunhill's Shanghai Home.|
|SHANGHAI SOCIAL DIARY – 796 HUAI HAI LU OPENING
by Jeanne Lawrence
It’s autumn in Shanghai and the weather is beautiful. The city’s economy has been booming and highly visible signs of wealth and status are everywhere.
Shanghai is a city on the rise. The cosmopolitan metropolis is developing rapidly -- perhaps too rapidly as much of its wonderful old fibers are being demolished to make way for the new.
However some are also being saved and restored, creating an inextricable link between the modern Shanghai with its not-so-distant past. One such example can be found tucked away on one of the main streets of the former French Concession. It’s name is 796 Huai Hai Lu.
|A light show illuminated the 1920s villas.|
|The address is home to two 1920s neo-classical twin villas -- the era when Shanghai was known as the “Paris of the East.” The mansions had been dormant for at least a decade when Alfred Dunhill’s image director Yann Debelle de Montby stumbled upon them while looking for a new retail spot for the British heritage brand. He immediately fell in love.
I first met Debelle de Montby last summer during a dinner party at the home of Chinese contemporary art connoisseur Pearl Lam. “I didn’t want to represent Dunhill in another shopping mall, so I looked for a new concept,” he told me. “Shanghai is a futuristic city, a part of what is going to happen in the world.”
After a two year renovation, the villas have been transformed into one of Shanghai’s ultimate lifestyle destinations. Venetian architect Filippo Gabbiani of Kokaistudios directed the project from the firm’s local studio.
|796 Huai Hai is now the China headquarters of the Richemont Group, which owns some of the world’s leading luxury brands, including Dunhill, Cartier, Chloé and Vacheron Constantin. Dunhill and Vacheron Constantin also have brand new have flagship stores in the homes.
The luxurious urban oasis is reminiscent of Ralph Lauren’s reconstruction of Madison Avenue’s 1890s Rhinelander mansion, only with a private garden, art gallery and exclusive club -- think Manhattan’s Doubles Club.
In October, I attended the highly anticipated glamorous grand opening. Over 1,200 came for the not-to-be missed event, including Dunhill’s global brand ambassador, actor Jude Law, and Japanese footballer Hidetoshi Nakata.
|A jazz band performed in the garden.|
|Other VIPs included Richemont’s Alain Li, Dunhill’s John Durnin and Jonathan Seliger, Vacheron Constantin’s Juan Carlos Torres and Marc Guten, Constantin descendants and siblings Jean and Odette Constantin, Chinese artist Wenda Gu and Shanghai fashion designer Lu Kun.
New Yorkers know guest Han Feng, who recently finished costumes for the San Francisco debut of “Bonesetter’s Daughter,” an opera based on author Amy Tan’s book. New York-bred, Shanghai-based Elisabeth de Brabant wore one of Feng’s of-the-era gowns for the occasion.
An evening that began at six lasted until well past two in the morning. The event started off with a cutting edge light where the columns and facades of the mansions were illuminated with colorful hues while a jazz band played on the lawn and dancers performed. Vueve Clicquot and caviar overflowed. And mixtures of multilingual conversations filled the air.
|After the light show, guests began to mill around the mansions, wandering through the West Villa, home of the Dunhill store. It has a Travel and Discovery room that overlooks the gardens along with a White Shirt Bar, a bespoke tailoring service and a classic gentlemen’s barbershop -- the ladies drooled over this.|
|The roving cocktail feast continued to the East Villa, the site of Vacheron Constantin’s boutique. The watchmaker redesigned two floors of the four-story mansion, preserving the original floors, carved wooden staircase and stained glass windows.
The brand says it aims cater to a rising demand for luxury timepieces among the emerging class of millionaires, even billionaires, in China. The store even brought over a master watchmaker to from Geneva to cater to its new clientele.
|Clockwise from top left: Huai Hai's East Villa houses Vacheron Constantin; The entrance to Vacheron Constantin; Vacheron Constantin Collector Salon; Master watchmaker flown in from Switzerland; Caviar, salmon and champagne were served.|
|KEE Shanghai, the first overseas branch of the exclusive Hong Kong club, is on the third and fourth floors of the villas. Austrian founder Christian Rhomberg says the new location was designed to resemble a private home reminiscent of a salon from Paris or Vienna but also with dining. (The following night, KEE celebrated its opening with a crowd of over 2,000 of Shanghai’s young and hip including 400 Hong Kong Kee Club members).|
|Swiss-born ShanghART founder Lorenz Helbling also has a new space on the grounds (Helbling has nearly a half-dozen other contemporary art studios in Shanghai and Beijing).
The premier show of his 796 Huai Hai space featured a solo exhibition titled “Landscape” by artist Birdhead.
|The evening truly was an unforgettable occasion of glamour and style, taste and class -- a glimpse of the old Shanghai in its roaring glory of the 1920s and the modern metropolis that it is becoming today.|
|NEW YORK’S JEAN-GEORGES VONGERICHTEN VISITS SHANGHAI
Another Shanghai landmark that has been brought back to life in recent years is the ritzy Three on the Bund, which houses Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s first signature eatery outside the Big Apple.
Renovated by architect Michael Graves, Three on the Bund is a 1916 neo-classical building where art, food, fashion and spa living converge: Evian Spa, Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss and the Shanghai Gallery of Art.
|Jean-Georges' empire includes New York hotspots JoJo, Vong, Mercer Kitchen, Nougatine, Perry St, Spice Market and the Jean Georges Restaurant in Trump International Hotel and Tower, which has earned a 3-star Michelin rating and 4 stars from the New York Times.
The moment we heard the celebrity chef would be holding a cooking demonstration at his Shanghai restaurant in October, we had to make reservations.
|When my friend Defne Ayas and I arrived for the morning culinary class, waiters greeted us with silver trays of champagne. Of course, we grabbed a front row seat.
Like me, Dafne also splits her time between New York and Shanghai and is a busy gal as she is a curatorial consultant to Shanghai’s ArtHub and New York’s Performa.
|Joining Jean-Georges in the kitchen was his Shanghai partner, American-born Eric Johnson, whom he's worked with for over decade.
As I know Jean-Georges from NYC, I took the chance to catch up on the news -- he’s so charming. Although trained in France, Alsatian-born Jean-Georges told me he also studied cooking in Asia -- Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.
Jean-Georges says his experience in the East has inspired his use of spices and herbs along with a more innovative and creative way of cooking.
|At the Shanghai event, the chefs prepared two specialties: crab cake with avocado, cucumber, lime and crystallized ginger; and red snapper encrusted with nuts, seeds and sweet and sour mushroom jus.
After the demo, we moved to the Michael Graves-designed dining room to enjoy a three-course lunch that ended with an indulgent praline tart.
The 155-seat restaurant with its cobalt blues and deep wine reds is amazingly spacious and comfortable. The bar and lounge feature exotic pony hair club chairs and eel skin benches.
|Red Snapper encrusted with nuts and seeds and Perfect ending - praline tart||Day view of Pudong and the Bund from JG|
|"I love it best because the design is so exciting,” said Jean-Georges of his dining room.
While popular at lunch for the business crowd, dinner is without a doubt romantic.
Guests can take in the spectacular nighttime views of the historic Bund along with the futuristic skyscrapers across the river in Pudong.
It's definitely a view you will dream about later -- after the fabulous food, that is.
|Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence|