Mini’s Fashion Collaboration Is Cringeworthy

Is the new corporate direction privileging haute couture over horsepower?

If you have say, “I’m a gentleman,” odds are you’re a boor. The whole point is subtlety and a deft touch: holding the door, not holding the door, bowing low and murmuring, madame. Mini, despite its British heritage and history of understated little autos, seems to have forgotten that. May we present: The MINI Gentleman’s Collection, for gentlemen who want to shout about their gentility.

The collaboration comes in celebration of the new Clubman, the latest entry in Mini’s bid to totally undermine its name. (The Clubman, at fourteen feet long, is a smaller car, but a grand Mini.) In the coming months, Mini will begin to sell “fashion” accessories at its lifestyle store in Munich. Each item—hat, sunglasses, shoes, bag, cologne, razor—is saddled with a suffix to indicate what kind of refined, elegant man would sport such kit. That is, of course, “gentleman’s.” Were he to avail himself of every gentleman’s item in the shop, for just under $1,400, a popinjay so inclined could move through the world never touching anything absent Mini’s imprimatur.

Despite the fluff, we like Mini. It’s just that, once a company begins to tout a Pharrell-inspired felt hat and a neoprene shoulder bag as demonstrations of its core identity, one wonders at its direction. (Especially as Mini’s cars continue to bloat and soften like a rotten cuke). The company used to occupy our favorite corner of the marketplace: quick, anachronistically small hatchbacks with a relentless need to zip. The original Issigonis Mini was a car for the enthusiast masses, superlative fun at a cost that made even the rich and famous (say, Steve McQueen) forget pricier metal for the length of a drive. Even back in 2001, with BMW engineering and a silly supercharged engine, the Mini brought style and speed to the compact class—a lithe little thing that exposed the contemporary Volkswagen GTI as the lard-butt it had become.

Today, there are eight basic models with every combination of doors, driven wheels, ride heights and wheelbases. Almost none, save the base Mini coupe, is particularly compact; the Mini Cooper Countryman S All4, at 3,300 pounds, outweighs a base BMW 3 Series. So, while a fashion-forward outlook is admirable, maybe Mini should drop the gentleman shtick and work on slimming down, not trimming up, the brand. The old Mini Cooper we love is surely a gentleman, but this grandkid? He’s starting to look like a bit of a lout.