Top gear for James May

So James May will be “launching his own fashion line” – the Times fashion desk considers the implications

The news that James May will be “launching his own fashion line” this weekend prompted some urgent questions here on the Timesfashion desk. After all, the millions of Top Gear fans who relish May’s automotive antics — along with Clarkson and the other one — do not immediately seem a likely fashion constituency. So what on Earth would chaps whose interest in Lagerfeld ends at the “r” be looking for in a celebrity fashion range?

May’s own attire is studiedly shambolic, but pretty straightforward: in summer it’s a floral shirt (untucked) over jeans, in winter it’s well-loved knitwear — and the same jeans. Who knows; perhaps James May jeans (subtly elasticated) could strike a chord? Yet given that the man himself once wrote, “Fashion is a waste of money that could be better spent on, say, maintaining your car”, we were suspicious. And rightly so. For it turns out that this is just material for a new series of May’s Man Lab, a car-free vehicle for more May musings.

Says the production company: “James’s idea is that men’s clothes should be more practical and multiple-purpose. As such he is creating two boiler suits that can be worn at every conceivable social occasion … One of the suits will transform from an outfit suitable for a workshop into something that could be worn to a wedding and back again.”

A sort of Swiss Army suit is a nice concept, but one that will doubtless be used to pontificate afresh on the pointlessness of fashion. Yet without wishing to compromise May’s manly grip on his gearstick, he should reconsider a moment. For flash cars and flash clothes are really rather similar: both encase their owner, and both project an image of that owner that suits his or her vanity. All that Top Gearperving over hot new models is just like fashion magazines heavy-breathing over new-season collections. And swooning over a vintage Bugatti is akin to coveting vintage Balenciaga. The only difference is that in fashion, somebody else does the driving.