Galloping away from the Birdcage
Polo in the City is a fascinator-free day, writes Rachelle Unreich.
There's a fashions on the field, but no one's wearing so much as a fascinator, let alone a Philip Treacy hat. There are fancy VIP marquees studded with sponsor names such as Veuve Clicquot, Land Rover and Paspaley, but no Birdcage.
There are horses and free-flowing champagne, but the spring racing carnival is over.
Welcome to the latest hot social ticket, Paspaley Polo in the City.
The Melbourne round of the series' national calendar comes to Albert Park on Saturday, and Alex Zabotto-Bentley thinks he understands why this event - capped at about 3500 people - has created so much buzz.
"There's an immediacy, a closeness, because everyone is on the same field," says the director of AZBcreative, whose team designs, creates and runs the Woodford Reserve Pavilion.
"It's a very genteel experience in a beautiful environment. Also, polo is so amazing to watch - it's vivid and exciting, and the girls go a little bit nuts for the polo players.
"I think one of the most endearing elements of polo is, once you're there, you're sharing this experience with everyone. You can see other people in the other marquees, so it feels very inclusive."
The chic set naturally care about how they look but "it's not about crazy little dresses with fascinators", says Zabotto-Bentley. "Guys are really spending much more time on how they put their outfits together."
Janek Gazecki, a founder of the event and an amateur player, says "it's the opposite of the races in that fascinators are almost outlawed. Guys don't wear suits. It's practical, smart casual wear - you're on turf and stomping divots, therefore stilettos are inappropriate. Guys will wear chinos or boaters and maybe a casual suit jacket and collared shirt, a la a country outing.
"You have to be far more subtle and creative to make your look stand out within those parameters."
Ditto the marquees, which are not the million-dollar uber-structures you see at Flemington. The Woodford Reserve Pavilion, for example, will be reminiscent of a southern home, a nod to the Kentucky Derby, of which Woodford Reserve is one of the main sponsors.
It will have white timber-slatted walls with big window shutters and a decked verandah complete with wisteria, magnolias and swinging love seats.
The Paspaley VIP enclosure will incorporate New York-style awnings, topiary hedges and a seafood bar serving Paspaley pearl meat canapes, while Veuve Clicquot's offering is a '50s diner known as the Clicquot Airstream. Land Rover has asked guests to dress with "a touch of safari" for its Africa-inspired tent.
Or will all eyes be on the players? This is one event where the stars of the show are encouraged to mingle in the marquees, as well as in public arenas such as the Kirin Polo Lounge, which Gazecki calls "a beer garden set-up for the revellers".
"One of the appeals of polo is the riders," he says.
"I have to admit that we market around the sex appeal of these professional players quite a bit, and you do get to meet the players before and after the game."
Gazecki is quick to point out that the event doesn't just attract the young and affluent.
"Polo has a tradition of being elitist and snobby but that couldn't be further from the truth in this country. The custodians of the sport in Australia are the farmers and their kids who grew up chasing sheep around the farm. Having said that, it is a sport that represents an endeavour towards perfection. It takes a lot of effort and skill and attention to detail, and that's why the aspirational and premium brands are attracted to polo."