As someone who has obsessed, analyzed, and quested for the perfect shave for as long as I’ve had facial hair, Christmas came early yesterday, in the form of an invitation Gillette extended to the press to come to a boutique midtown Manhattan hotel and “experience” the new Gillette Fusion 5-blade razor. Gillette announced the Fusion a couple of weeks ago, but it won’t be available to the public until early next year. It’s not releasing trial razors for media or other “influencers” to test, but it did host these private events for people to get a first shave with Fusion. If nanotech, biotech, and all that were operating with the kind of missionary zeal that Gillette and Schick are to improve how we shave, there’d be no disease, war, pestilence, locusts, boils, etc. So I excitedly snagged an appointment to see if this latest advance—5 blades!—was revolutionary, evolutionary, or somehow, a step backwards. And while we’re at it, we’ll consider the Gillette PR assault for the fun of it.
Before I could be shaved, of course, I had to be propagandized about the new razor and all its accoutrements. I guess Gillette’s feeling is that after you shave you won’t be paying attention, or maybe you’ll be woozy from the loss of blood, I don’t know. So the PR chief ran me through certain aspects of the razor and the new Gillette shaving cream and aftershave balms they’ll be selling. She couldn’t answer my very basic questions, such as how long has this been in the works? (A: “several.”) My interpretation: We were working on a 4-blade razor, taking our sweet time, trying to convert as many people to the M3 Power first before we forced everyone to shift again, this time with a blade that’s not compatible with old razors, forcing you to buy the whole system and not just the blades. And then Schick, perennial also-ran, a company so disrespected that drugstores leave its razors out in the aisles without anti-theft devices for anyone to steal, but ours, which are, you know, desirable, are behind the counter, released a 4-blade razor, the Quattro, and even though no one seemed to notice, we did and then we had to go back to the drawing board and accelerate long-term plans to go to five blades. But why say that when you can say, “Several.”
My favorite moment then of the pre-shave PR ritual was when the Gillette rep caught herself not using a laudatory enough adjective to describe the new razor. She used something like “advanced,” but quickly corrected herself to describe the Fusion as a “breakthrough” technology. Duly noted.
Now I was a bit confused by the invitation and mistakenly believed from the invitation that a Gillette professional would be shaving me using the new razor. Personally, I think some variation thereof is the future of shaving: A Gillette rep will just come to your house, and your whiskers, so beaten down by the pace of innovation as compared with your evolution, will just fall out of your face, ashamed. But not yet. And alas, I was wrong. What Gillette had set up was that a licensed (well, I think she was licensed. I didn’t ask to see it) esthetician would wash and massage your face and neck and then they’d send you to the bathroom in the hotel to shave yourself.
Here’s the genius part: The esthetician was impossibly hot by conventional standards. Coors Light ad during a professional football game conventional standards hot, in other words. I’ve had a straight razor shave before, and you get a 60-something male Russian barber rubbing your face with hands meaty enough to knead bread or kill a guy without straining. Gillette brings in a Glamazon with her delicate hands to prep your face for shaving. It does make a difference.
Again, you can see the wheels turning over at Gillette PR HQ: Who cares if those journalists walk out of here with their skin hanging off their face in ribbons, like what you see at a car wash? They could have their face skin peeled right off, star in a roadshow production of Silence of the Lambs; all they’re gonna remember is that impossibly hot by conventional standards woman who rubbed their face for five minutes.
By the time I did get to the bathroom and selected the Fusion Power (I was going to the edge, baby! No lame-o manual shaving for me now, I don’t care how many blades), it was a bit anticlimactic. It’s a razor, ya know? At first shave, I wasn’t even remotely impressed. I wasn’t getting that close a shave! To prepare for this day, I had bought a Schick Quattro Power, today’s technological state of the art, to test it out. Shockingly (Schickingly?), it’s quite good. I get a close, comfortable shave with less strokes than the Gillette Mach3 Turbo I had regularly used before my experiment.
Part of the problem may have been that I had to use Gillette’s unbelievably awful shaving cream. If I had known I was going to shave myself, I would have smuggled in my own good stuff. The “hydrogel” is that electric blue color that most people associate with Windex; the chemical smell that accompanied it wasn’t doing anything to erase that association. Where’s the licensed esthetician to tell Gillette that these chemicals may not be good for my face?
But as I reapplied the blue goo and shaved again, I did get what I would have to admit is the closest shave I can recall. Almost on par with the straight razor shave I received not too long ago. But also on par with the shave I’ve been getting for the last week with the Schick Quattro Power. In other words, this is an incremental improvement, not a “breakthrough” or a “revolution,” no matter what Gillette tries to tell you in the months ahead. It is worth upgrading to a vibrating razor, and maybe it’s worth upgrading to something with more than three blades. But the Schick razor feels better designed than the Fusion in its weight balance to make sure that you don’t push down too hard when shaving. And the difference in blades seems negligible.
Maybe this is like office productivity software or any other product category that experiences fast growth in a short period: You can only go so far before people’s needs are met and anything else on top of that is an incremental improvement, like a better spell check. You make the power button on the handle flush instead of raised. You add a low-battery indicator light. Whoopee! Not enough to get me to switch unless you force me. Until Gillette’s people can just scare the hair out of my face, or something pretty darn close, I think I’m going to be a Schick man. Now that's a breakthrough.