Beyond Ralph Lauren
Reddy, Sameer, Newsweek International
Byline: Sameer Reddy
When I was growing up, I was on a first-name basis with Polo, Ralph Lauren's line of preppy staples. But I've come to understand that the little mallet-wielding man on a horse embroidered on my shirts is more than just a logo; it's a symbol of one of the world's most storied sports. And polo is becoming an increasingly popular leisure pursuit, thanks in large part to canny marketing and the crossover appeal and tireless efforts of star players like Nacho Figueras, himself a Ralph Lauren-brand ambassador and model. As captain of the Lauren-sponsored Black Watch team, Figueras has propelled himself into the nexus of New York's social and fashion scenes. His celebrity exploits--he's a frequent guest on the Manhattan-Hamptons party circuit--are tirelessly chronicled in gossip columns and glossy magazines. The sport's self-styled spokesperson, Figueras sees his widespread visibility as part of a larger effort to rebrand polo as the sport of choice not just for the privileged set, but for a more mainstream audience as well.
Polo has always been popular with the elite. The first recorded game took place in Persia around 600 B.C., and it was soon embraced by the nobility. It spread to the Indian subcontinent, where it was taken up by the maharajahs and their royal courts. During colonial times, British occupiers imported polo to their homeland, where it became a favorite pastime of the landed gentry. Today the game is still largely played out in the glare of paparazzi flashes; dashing figures such as Figueras and Prince Harry, and the support of socially prominent billionaires such as publishing magnate Peter Brant, attract attention from high-profile audiences full of celebrities and socialites, not to mention the tabloids and lifestyle titles that love them.
Polo remains wildly popular in India, Argentina, Britain, and Dubai, among other countries, where, thanks to tourist-friendly schools and resorts, it is no longer the exclusive province of the landed gentry. In India, for example, the city-state of Jaipur is famous for its polo legacy, thanks to the late Maharajah Man Singh, whose team won the World Cup in 1933. For modern-day enthusiasts eager to learn to play, the Jaipur Riding and Polo Club offers all-inclusive, intensive polo clinics consisting of room, board, daily practice, private lessons, and potential tournament play for the reasonable price of $350 a day (jaipur polo.com). In Britain, the Ascot Park Polo Club and Academy, set on 49 hectares 40 minutes outside London, is the world's largest polo training institute. Its large range of classes include two-hour introductory lessons, for individuals or groups, and clinics designed to improve one's swing, using a mechanical wooden horse (www. …