Photographed by STEPHEN WARD
Stylist VIVIEN VITTADELLO Words NATASHA INCHLEY
Makeup by JACLYN HNITKO
Ride Like The Wind: above and main picture top, Francesca Cumani, photographed at The Sydney Polo Club in the Richmond Lowlands, with Isabel. Cumani wears Country Road throughout.
n early morning fog blankets the field as Francesca Cumani walks towards us, past the stables and along a grassy path leading to a grand old oak where the crew, and several curious horses, have gathered. The photographer Stephen Ward begins shooting, and Cumani, low-key in all respects, hops aside so he can get a shot of whatever it is he is so interested in. It is her, of course.
Cumani tends to stand out wherever she goes. She bears a striking resemblance to the actress Margaux Hemingway: piercing eyes, amazing brows. But the real magic is seeing her move with the horses. During our shoot, at the Sydney Polo Club in the Richmond Lowlands in NSW, the racing commentator manages to calm a tall, temperamental mare named Isabel, so much so that she is able to drape across its glossy back. The horse’s groom watches on nervously but she shouldn’t be too worried for Cumani has been riding long before she could reach the stirrups.
“I love that horses are such big, powerful animals yet they don't really know their own strength; on the whole they’re willing to do whatever you ask of them,” the English-born beauty explains. Her father is the famous Milanese thoroughbred trainer, Luca Cumani, who taught his young children that horses were more than just investments. “My dad has always been very dedicated to his work, which shows in his success, and equally my mum loves it too, they are very much a team. Through them, my brother and I developed our own passion because they showed us that, yes, it was a business but at the same time each horse had its own personality and therefore commands respect,” Cumani says. “Dad is amazing, he has 100 horses in his yard but he knows their names, their parents, every detail. He didn't want me to follow in his footsteps, mainly because it is quite a tough life. But I think as children you either share your parents’ passion or resent it for consuming all their time. For me, it was in my blood. I grew up riding ponies and taking part in jumping competitions. I started pestering dad to ride a racehorse and he finally relented when I was 11. I had to learn quickly because I got thrown off most days, but it was the most exciting time for me.”
Cumani, who traveled widely throughout her childhood and is fluent in four languages, went on to gain her amateur jockey license while studying modern languages at the University Of Bristol. Her expertise soon landed her high-profile media roles with CNN as host of Winning Post, as a panelist on Channel Seven’s Melbourne Cup coverage, and as an ambassador of the Gold Coast’s Magic Millions. Today, she lives with her Australian husband, the champion polo player Rob Archibald and their nine-month old son Harry; the young family dividing its time between their country home in Scone, an apartment in Sydney and their farmhouse in England.
When it comes to style, Cumani likes to keep it simple. “I tend to wear jeans, T-shirts and cashmere jumpers during the day. I’m drawn to the quality of clothes rather than what is specifically on-trend. I grew up inspired by my Italian grandmother who was very elegant,” she says. “I think it’s important to dress to what suits you.” Cumani navigates her race day dress codes according to which city she is in, favouring an undone kind of glamour anchored by masculine tailoring. She likes to break the rules in her own chic way where possible. “When there are very specific codes, such as at Royal Ascot in England, you have to dress appropriately, but at other meetings I focus on the classics, and on comfort and practicality because I’m working long days,” she explains. “Anything too uncomfortable becomes a nightmare. I love suits, mannish tailoring, structured shapes. In the back of my mind, I’m also aware that this is a traditionally male-dominated sphere; I don’t want to look trussed up. I think it’s best to go with what you feel good in, have fun with it, but remember you’re going to race day not a nightclub,” Cumani laughs.
Country Road's Stylist Manager, Vivien Vittadello, agrees: “Francesca’s strong yet no-fuss personality really reflects the styling on our shoot, tailoring is key. I chose natural fabrics because they’re such a great staple in anyone’s wardrobe – cotton, silk and linen. We also incorporated belted jackets and men’s shirts with wide cuffs, which instantly elevates any look.”
Back to the shoot and Cumani, in her own words, is now “getting mushy” with a dappled grey colt, kissing its muzzle and speaking to it softly. On the manicured lawn behind them, players are galloping past with mallets raised during a match for the club’s spring polo tournament. Cumani, now in the saddle, looks keen to join in.
So has motherhood changed her world? “It has made it better for sure,” she says. “Harry is such a bundle of joy, he has definitely enriched our lives. Obviously, you have another person to think about all the time so I’m learning to plan things a bit better these days. Rob and I are really enjoying this moment.” In their downtime, the couple aims for relaxed weekends and long lunches with family and friends. “Having grown up in England, I was not so used to the idea of going to the beach for a swim in the morning followed by a lazy breakfast, but a dip in the ocean always makes you feel great, then it’s usually lunch with family and, of course, the perfect Sunday always ends with a late afternoon ride.” For Cumani, riding appears to be quite hypnotic. “It’s very calming, yes. There’s no better escape for me than to jump on the back of a horse. It’s about the adrenalin or the endorphins I suppose,” Cumani says. “Ultimately, though, it just gives me a real sense of freedom. There’s nothing like it.”