Adolfo Cambiaso, Facundo Pieres and Mariano Aguerre may be even better polo players. But no one embodies the romance, the elegance — the machismo, if you will — of the sport the way the man known simply as “Nacho” does. Little wonder that the media have described Nacho Figueras as “the David Beckham of polo.”
This is due in part to his work as spokesmodel for Ralph Lauren’s Polo clothing and fragrance campaigns. Like Beckham, Figueras is an athlete, a man in motion, who nonetheless has a preternatural gift for the still camera — the ability to hold its unwavering, skeptical, even brutal gaze and draw you in. That takes more than cheekbones wider than the pampas of his beloved, native Argentina — for which he serves as a goodwill ambassador. It takes a particular kind of intelligence and talent.
But Figueras — who played for Greenwich Polo Club’s White Birch team early in his career — would say he looks the part, because he is the part. Indeed, posing for last summer’s edition of the luxe British publication The Gentleman’s Journal, he eschewed makeup and styling and wore only his own clothes.
“I don’t feel that I’m a model at all, because I’m not,” he told Harper’s Bazaar. “I’m a professional polo player that endorses a clothing company.
“At the end of the day,” he reminded The Gentleman’s Journal, “the only reason I’m doing this is to promote the game of polo.”
It’s also the reason he’s presenting a new series of romances, “The Polo Season” (Forever/Grand Central Publishing). Figueras and wife Delfina Blaquier — a photographer and landscape architect who is also his partner in breeding horses in Argentina and appears with him in Ralph Lauren Romance fragrance ads — met with Hudson Valley writer Jessica Whitman to explore the thunderous nature, tony atmosphere and Spanish inflections of the sport. The result is a trio of perfect beach books — breezy romances revolving around the troubled Del Campo dynasty of sexy polo stars, set amid the horse farms of upstate New York and the heady glamour of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla. They’re flavored with sharply drawn characters; snappy one-liners (“There’s no portion control when it comes to their accessories,” one observer says of the well-heeled Wellington crowd); and surprisingly rueful insights into the nature of celebrity.
“He knew he should be grateful,” Whitman writes of Alejandro Del Campo, the male protagonist in the first book, “High Season.” “But sometimes the unrelenting scrutiny could feel less like love and more like ownership. As if they were entitled to just about everything he had to give — not just an autograph or a quick selfie, but his heart, his soul….”
For his part, Figueras — whose tastes run more to histories and biographies — is happy to democratize a sport born of the ancient Persian cavalry that declined among the general public in this country during the Great Depression. It is a sport, however, that’s in the Argentine blood and soul.
“In my native Argentina, everyone has a chance to go to polo matches and see how thrilling they are,” Figueras, who grew up on a farm outside Buenos Aires, writes in the introduction to “High Season.” “I first learned to ride a horse when I was four years old and started playing the sport of polo by the time I was nine….I fell in love with the beauty of horses and idolized the strength and bravery of the best players.”
He turned pro in 1994 while still a teenager, playing in France, Spain and the American South before captaining Peter Brant’s White Birch team. In 1999, Figueras met Bruce Weber, who photographed Ralph Lauren’s campaigns, in the Hamptons. A year later, he posed for his first RL ad and has been at it ever since.
As Jeffrey Slonim observes on Town & Country’s website, “Lauren, so adept at conjuring up an almost-too-perfect fantasy of a certain way of life, seems to have found the flesh-and-blood embodiment of his rugged (there’s that word again), alpha male ideal.”
If Figueras is an alpha male, he’s one who speaks softly and likes to go barefoot, a family man with compassion for others. (“High Season” is dedicated “To my wonderful wife, Delfi — for giving me Hilario, Aurora, Artemio and Alba. You are all the best things that ever happened to me.”)
“I’m a lucky guy, I’ve had a great life, I have a great family,” he told Harper’s Bazaar. “I’m very blessed that way, so I believe in giving back a lot.”
He’s been involved with the Philadelphia-based Chamounix Equestrian Center’s Work to Ride program, which trains inner-city youths in horsemanship and polo while fostering their academic education. Figueras is also an ambassador for Sentebale, founded by his friend Prince Harry and Prince Seesio of Lesotho in honor of their late mothers — Princess Diana and Queen Mamohato — to help the one in four children there who are HIV-infected survive and thrive. The goal is for Sentebale to reach five sub-Saharan countries by 2020.
WAG had the pleasure of watching Figueras and Prince Harry square off in the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup match in 2013 at Greenwich Polo Club. It was a memorable day, one that saw the prince score the winning goal in a thrilling match. It was also an occasion in which the chemistry between Figueras and the prince — whom he describes as a fierce competitor at work and play — was clearly evident.
But then, there always seems to be a charitable component to Figueras’ play as he travels the world with his family and his Black Watch team, spreading the polo gospel. Recently, he took part in the ninth annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic, which he founded to bring polo to the people. It takes place, he has noted, not in Greenwich or the Hamptons but in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, in the shadow of that icon to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These are words from Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus,” inscribed on the base of Lady Liberty.
“To be able to play polo with the Statue of Liberty waving at you and the New York City skyline in the background… it’s a very rare feeling,” he told Harper’s Bazaar. “You’re playing polo and you look up and you’re just like, ‘Wow.’”