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BRIJUNI, Croatia — “This is party polo, not professional polo,” quipped Umberto Angeloni, chief executive officer of Brioni, during his company’s second annual Polo Classic, held on the Croatian island of Brijuni earlier this month. The Italian luxury goods company pulled out all the stops, laying out a polo field and stables, before ferrying over some 90 horses to the island so that four polo teams could compete in this year’s tournament, in which Team Mayback took home the trophy. They even flew in an Italian chef for a dinner held under white tents near the sparkling Bay of Venus and ancient Roman ruins.
The green of the island’s pristine waters rivaled only that of the pitch, where player Jose Bertola caused a stir when he turned model during halftime, stripping off his polo shirt and slipping into a striped jacket from Brioni’s new men’s polo collection. “There’s no standard dress for a polo match,” he said. “You dress how you want and what makes you feel comfortable.”
All the while, his chic and watchful wife, Maria Jose Bertola, never took her eyes off him to let the other ladies know he’s very taken. Unlike female Russian polo player Vladlena Belolispskaia Bernardoni, who watched from the sideline in a tiered purple straw and chiffon hat and gray silk slip dress, Bertola’s wife preferred an easier look of pink jeans and a multistriped sweater.
Up-and-coming Italian polo player Costanza Marchiorello wasn’t interested in Bertola’s rugged looks, but rather in his wicked swing. The 16-year-old has been riding since she was six, and she trains with her dad and fellow Marchiopolo Polo Team Cartier player, Giovanni Marchiorello.
Horses and competition aside, though, the event’s main raison d’être was a social one. Covered in pine trees and dotted with Roman ruins, the island has remained an unspoiled gem in the Adriatic Sea. A handful of inhabitants share the unspoiled land with deer, peacocks and the elephants and zebras in the island’s zoo.
“Each year we ask ourselves, ‘Should we do it?’ And each year we do it,” Angeloni said. “Each year we’re happier that we did, because this island is magic.”