Richemont Fuses Fashion and Art in Shanghai

Compagnie Financière Richemont’s recently restored villas in former French Concession are also home to the city’s oldest contemporary art gallery, ShanghArt.

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An interior view of Dunhill.

Photo By Lisa Movius

SHANGHAI — Compagnie Financière Richemont’s recently restored villas in the former French Concession don’t just house Dunhill and Vacheron Constantin flagships — they’re also home to the newest outpost for this city’s oldest contemporary art gallery, ShanghArt.

The gallery and its founders, Laura Zhou and Lorenz Helbling, spearheaded the emergence of the Shanghai contemporary art scene, and 2008 has proven to be another busy year. ShanghArt’s new space is hosting its second exhibition, “Hybrid,” which showcases the work of more than a dozen artists, including Tang Guo’s evocations of traditional Chinese ink landscapes through monochrome photography and Zhang Enli’s minimalist still life paintings. The show runs through the end of next month. The space opened with an inaugural exhibition of photographic light boxes by Shanghainese duo Bird Head, made up of Song Tao and Ji Weiyu: a daringly noncommercial, avant-garde choice for what easily could have been a more sales-focused location.

Richemont opened the renovated twin villas, built in 1921 and 1927, in mid-October in a bid to fuse elements of art, lifestyle and luxury into a unique experience for its Chinese customers. The compound also features an English garden — tapping into the brand’s British heritage — as well as a branch of the private Hong Kong bar and restaurant Kee Club. ShanghArt 796 occupies the ground floor of a minimalist glass structure at the back of the compound; Richemont’s new offices are upstairs.

“Richemont is the first luxury group to establish such a vanguard concept in China’s luxury retail revolution,” said John Durnin, chief financial officer of Dunhill Asia.

Yann Debelle de Montby, Dunhill’s director of image and press relations and the creative force behind the project, said the company is eager to distinguish itself from hordes of other brands and shopping environments that reek of sameness.

“As consumers, people are frustrated with the shopping experience,” he continued. “It’s boring; it feels like being in an airport. Malls account for 95 percent of turnover, especially in China, but it feels wrong — when you enter a store, you should step into a larger idea.”

Debelle de Montby said Dunhill is striving to teach Chinese customers how to dress like proper gentlemen and turn them into loyal customers.

The store features a first floor cluttered with travel paraphernalia — dubbed the “room of discovery” — as well as a suit room, a casual room and a cigar and martini bar. The smaller back rooms contain a boutique barbershop and a tailoring service straight from Savile Row.

The Vacheron Constantin manse features a retail showcase, a watch-repair laboratory and an exhibition room with revolving displays of vintage watches and a collection of watch books. For the most dedicated watch collectors, there are also 18 vacuum-packed, climate-controlled watch safes available.
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