Interview - Dora Wong

Dora Wong, or Dame Dora Wong, was born in the 1930s in Shanghai to a wealthy family, as her father was a businessman who owned a number of paper mill factories. She attended American and European Catholic schools in Shanghai, where she was taught English and French. After that, she went to Shanghai Fudan University to study Finance and International Trade which later became helpful for her fashion design business. Upon graduating, she got one of the very few quotas to go to Hong Kong, so she left China with very little money allowed in her pocket, earning a living wage as an assistant to French contour designer, K.K. Lau. Even though the boss had a bad temper and worked her very hard, she sponsored Dora’s studies for fashion in Paris, and thanks to her French training in Catholic schools, she was able to learn quickly and develop her career trajectory as a fashion designer. During this time, she was not able to return to China for fear of not being able to leave again; while during the Cultural Revolution in China, her father lost the paper mills he owned to the Communist Party, and her elder sister was forced into suicide who she never got to meet again after leaving China.

After the training in France, she went back to Hong Kong and established her own fashion business, and became very popular among celebrities and their wives, among whom are Shirley MacLaine, William Holden and Harry Belafonte. She travelled all over the world to organize fashion shows and worked with top-tier department stores, including Neiman Marcus in Dallas, as her closest connection to Texas back then. However, in her early 40s, her health deteriorated significantly due to a long period of her workaholic lifestyle. She was admitted to hospital during a fashion show in New York, where the doctor advised her to stay in US and recover. After considerations, she closed down her business and her immigration status quickly went through, with the help of the owner of Nieman Marcus, Stanley Marcus. Not long after, she met her husband Edmond Nagel and the couple has been living on the Upper East Side since then.

In the US, she met the world-renowned Chinese art collector, C.C. Wang, an anchor donor of Asian art collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art through her father, as both were students of Wu Hufan (1894–1968), one of the most respected connoisseur and classical painters in 20th century China. Under the guidance of C.C. Wang and her own talent and appreciation for beauty, Dora built her collection in antique paintings and works of art, as well as established her confidence and status as one of the few woman collectors in this male dominated field. Even though she claimed that she didn’t have a strategy, her collection mainly focuses on: rhinoceros cups, Qing dynasty court paintings, and antique huanghuali furniture. She had appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, books and publications for her collection, which appreciated in value even though she started with considerably lower capital. She mainly acquires and sells her collection through auction houses, who nurtured close business and friendly relationships with her. She also supports Chinese contemporary artists in New York. Dora is an avid animal lover who parented a number of dogs, one of which raised his hand during an auction bidding war, and was acknowledged by the auctioneer as a joke. Dora lives in her penthouse apartment in the Upper East Side in New York with her husband.

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