36 Hours in Shanghai with Prada

Welcome to the world of Pradasphere II

Few designers can command such devotion that it inspires editors to drop everything and travel across the world for 36 hours or less, simply for an exhibition. But when said exhibition is Prada in Shanghai, say no more! And if you think spending only a day and a half in China is crazy talk, think again — journalist Alex Fury spent a mere 18 hours (probably a record) in the city, just for the chance to step foot into the designer’s expansive world. That’s the power of Pradasphere II, a public exhibition that takes us through the history of and culture of the Italian luxury house from its beginnings in 1913 to the global superbrand that it is today. 

Below, a breakdown of our time there.

Night One: Prada Rong Zhai Paraventi Unveiled

Our time kicked off with an evening at Prada Rong Zhai Paraventi, a stunning standalone mansion that once belonged to Chinese industrialist Rong Zongjing in 1918. In 2011 the brand took over the lease, formally reopening the space in 2017 after five years of painstaking restorations. Intended to be a place for cultural events, the interiors seamlessly combine traditional Chinese elements with modern art. Case in point, we were here for Paraventi, a group show that was unveiled in conjunction with Paraventi: Folding Screens From the 17th to 21st Centuries, a sister exhibit currently at the Fondazione Prada in Milan.

Each room unfolds like a chapter in a captivating novel, seamlessly blending the traditional and the avant-garde. You’ll see 17th and 18th-century screens sitting alongside contemporary works by global artists like Tony Cokes and Cao Fei. The curated fusion of East and West, past and present, is a testament to Prada’s prowess in transcending cultural boundaries and finding dialogues between the two. When in Shanghai, a visit is not to be missed! 

Night Two: Enter Pradasphere II

Jet lag? No time for that. A mere 24 hours after arrival, we are at the Start Museum for the grand opening of Pradasphere II. The exhibition was a visual and intellectual feast, curated by the brilliant minds of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons. Upon entry, you’re greeted by the brand’s recognizable velvety pistachio and an original Andreas Gursky photograph of a wall in one of Prada’s early stores. From there you enter into the exhibition and immediately are hit with amazement — imagine a room filled with curated looks that date from Mrs. Prada’s first collection in 1998 all the way up to present day. It makes you wonder, as you gaze upon each mannequin, if what you’re viewing is from now or then as each collection feels equally as relevant and timeless.  

With over 400 pieces on display, we’re taken on a journey through Prada’s evolution from 1913 to the present. The exhibition is staged as a magazzino, the Italian word for warehouse, as the space utilizes industrial shelving which stands in stark contrast against the pink velvet accents. A fitting reflection on the brand’s ability to seamlessly blend the rough and refined. 

Each room and section of the exhibition was filled with brilliance — you’ll also see two new artworks by Damien Hirst. One includes 30 of the brand’s silver handbags displayed in the artist’s iconic cabinets white the second saw a Galleria bag immersed into a tank. The Green Store section highlighted Prada’s most notable shoes while Materiality featured 21 full skirts, all created especially for the Shanghai exhibit. One of our favorites? Prada Milano, which sees British photographer Albert Watson working with Mrs. Prada in the 80s to create images of the earliest nylon collection. 

Pradasphere II is an immersive experience, whispering secrets of craftsmanship, aesthetic contradictions, and the relentless pursuit of challenging norms in luxury. Every element, from fashion and art to architecture and sound, was thoughtfully presented. Perhaps nothing illustrated this devotion more than during the meet and greet, where Simons was asked by Alison Veness from 10 Australia if he could pick a moment to start working with Mrs. Prada, when would that be? He answered 1998 and it’s easy to see why — from her first collection she knew the DNA of her brand. 

If Prada was a religion, then Pradasphere II is the Vatican. You are not blessed until you have made that journey to Shanghai. Whether it’s 18, 36 hours or longer, a visit is a must if you find yourself on that side of the world. 

Pradasphere II is free and open to the public from December 7, 2023 to January 21, 2024 at the Start Museum, 111 Ruining Road, Xuhui District. 

Images courtesy of Prada.

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