Hermès' new Shanghai home in a 20th-century French administration building
Shanghai's new home for Hermès occupies an early 20th-century, double-fronted, former French administration building on the corner of Huaihai Road and Songshan Road. Built out of terracotta brick and cement, and with balcony windows overlooking a pavement lined with Chinese parasol trees, it is relatively modest and discreet at only four storeys (though it provides a not-quite-so-modest 1,238 sq m of retail and exhibition space) - in stark contrast to the brightly lit façades of the neighbouring towers and retail flagships.
Buildings like this in the former French Concession are rare in Shanghai today. Hermès and Denis Montel of Rena Dumas Architecture Intérieure (RDAI) spent six years working with, or perhaps against, a 15-strong local government committee of experts charged with approving the design. Entering the store over a wide bridge and through the north façade doors, you're welcomed by familiar house codes: the Hermès motif 'Ex Libris' lit from above by 'Grecque' lighting, a ceiling-light design that traces its roots back to the brand's Faubourg Saint-Honoré store in Paris. The staircase, another key feature in Hermès stores, twists from east to west, somewhat like the tail of a dragon, softening the rigidity of the square walls.
What may be less obvious is that almost all the materials used in the exterior and interior have been sourced locally: the floor of soie grège limestone sourced in the Guìzhōu region; the first-floor carpet with a soft sheen woven in Chinese wool and silk; the walls to the east and west of the second floor, made from cross-cut elm beams reclaimed from old Chinese temples and patchworked together like cobbles; the Chinese soie sauvage shot silk taffeta lining the walls of the women's shoe lounge; the craquelure lacquer in the watch and jewellery salon, made of 15 layers and expertly applied by a Chinese master in rose silver.