What to wear to the NZ Polo Open according to fashion veteran Barbara Brinsley

20 February 2020

WORDS BY Fashion Quarterly New Zealand

Barbara Brinsley for Veuve Clicquot

One event we love year after year is the NZ Polo Open, where we put on our polo best and get set for a day of champagne, ponies and high-octane sport.

If you fancy a day of elite sport, fashion and champagne, the BMW NZ Polo Open is the place to be on Saturday 22 February. New Zealand’s most prestigious polo event will be held at the Auckland Polo Club in Clevedon and is always a highlight of the summer events schedule.

Our affection for this event could largely be put down to the wonderful Veuve Clicquot marquee, which has been a mainstay at the Polo Open for the last nine years. This year, the marquee is introducing a new theme of ‘Clicquot in the Sun’ working with New Zealand style icon Barbara Brinsley and stylist Louise Hilsz to help curate a timelessly elegant setting inspired by retro chic tones throughout the decades.

Swing dancers, a jazz band, retro furniture, wait staff dressed to theme and flowing champagne will create a celebratory atmosphere, while a purpose built studio will be where lucky guests will be able to have their fabulous outfits captured as a portrait, and styled by Barbara. Of the project, Barbara says: “It’s very very exciting to be asked to do something like that at my stage of life. It will be my first polo event that I’ve ever seen – I’m going to be absolutely swept off my feet seeing all those brilliant horses.”

Dunedin-based Barbara’s first foray into fashion was purely by chance – she was lunching with two female friends in 2003 when someone connected to the industry noticed this stylish trio and asked them to model in an upcoming show at Dunedin Fashion Week. Francis Hooper, WORLD’s founder and designer, happened to be judging at the event and flew the trio up to Auckland to model for his brand at NZ Fashion Week. Her love of fashion has never wavered in her 81 years and while her outfits are always impressive and intricate, Barbara’s approach to style and getting dressed each day is surprisingly low-key. “My style philosophy is really to protect myself from the elements and be appropriate for where I’m going. It’s what’s happening with the weather really – it’s a bit unpredictable these days!” she says.

When asked if there is one item of clothing she has kept and treasured over the years or a particular designer she favours, she is quick to say no. However, with a wardrobe as extensive as hers, it is unsurprising she would find it difficult to play favourites. “It would be too difficult [to name them all!]. I’ve got a lot of New Zealand designers like Marilyn Sainty, Zambesi and WORLD and a lot of wonderful international designers too – John Paul Gaultier, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester, Helmut Lang, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme [des Garçons]. It’s quite intensely vast.”


Aside from fashion, Barbara has a keen interest in the arts, working on the Dunedin Hospital art advisory committee as an aesthetic coordinator since 2003 when she retired from her nursing career. She has also put her hand to painting, pottery, jewellery and gardening. While fashion and art are her great loves, she does set aside a place in her heart for something else. “One of my other loves in my life, is French champagne – and particularly Veuve Clicquot. It’s the only cellar that I’ve been down in, it’s about three quarters of an hour from Paris to Reims. You go to Madame Clicquot’s for the day and you’re enjoying her wonderful champagne. That was a memorable experience I had in 2014 – but there’s enough evidence around my house of all the Clicquot!”

If there’s one person who knows how to stand out in a crowd and enjoy herself at an event like the NZ Polo Open, it’s Barbara. She shared her top tips for enjoying this event:

1. Go back to basics – think about the appropriateness of where you are and ensure your outfit fits the dress code and is comfortable and well-fitted.

2. Wear practical shoes – at the polo, you’re out on a field so wear footwear which won’t get stuck in the grass.

3. Think about sun protection – if it’s a sunny day, protect yourself with a big hat to shield yourself.

4. Drink one glass of water for every glass of Veuve Clicquot – keep hydrated, especially if it’s a hot, sunny day.

5. Bring layers so you don’t get caught out – a warm jacket or sweater is handy to have for later in the evening if it cools down. Barbara suggests something small which can be squeezed into your handbag.

6. Be in the moment – seize the day and enjoy it for what it is. If you see someone and you think they look great, let them know!

The BMW NZ Polo Open is taking place Saturday 22 February at Auckland Polo Club, Clevedon. For the very first time, Veuve Clicquot is offering strictly limited tickets to the Veuve Clicquot Marquee at the 2020 NZ Polo Open. You can buy yours now through eventfinda.co.nz.

Photos: Supplied


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