BLADE RUN­NERS

Think shav­ing is sim­ple? A trip around Gil­lette’s re­search lab re­veals a kind of bor­der­line-crazy ob­ses­sive­ness with the cut­ting edge

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

You might not think it’s pos­si­ble to spend a fun day look­ing at how ra­zors are made. And you’re right. What I saw at Gil­lette’s HQ this month wasn’t fun. It was an awe-in­spir­ing glimpse at how tech we take for granted ar­rives in our hands (or on our faces, in this case).

Gil­lette is ob­ses­sive about what it does. Its fa­cil­ity is like one of those end­less lab com­plexes from the Res­i­dent Evil fran­chise, ex­cept that as you walk around it you en­counter sci­en­tists por­ing over 3D-printed mod­els of ra­zor han­dles, or watch­ing video footage of 50 men shav­ing, as op­posed to ra­zor-tongued dogs with no skin and tentacles com­ing out of their backs.

Se­crecy is para­mount. Any­one, af­ter all, could be a Braun spy. I had my phone con­fis­cated be­fore be­ing al­lowed to look around. “How much do these guys get paid for shav­ing on cam­era?” They can’t tell you that. “What’s your favourite aban­doned shaver con­cept?” They can’t tell you that, ei­ther; who knows when the mar­ket might sud­denly be ready for, say, a shaver with two heads, powered by a crank han­dle?

This isn’t how most peo­ple work, but this, I think, is how all the best tech gets made. Clearly ra­zors are less com­plex things than smart­phones, but Gil­lette’s ap­proach echoes the likes of Ap­ple and Sam­sung in so many ways. They are driven to bolt on new fea­tures and up­grades. They want to keep hon­ing.

To that end, they sit for end­less, voyeuris­tic hours watch­ing footage of men shav­ing – dozens troop in ev­ery sin­gle morn­ing for the priv­i­lege – in the hope they’ll sud­denly no­tice some­thing new, and to see how pro­to­type prod­ucts are far­ing with these de­pilat­ing mer­ce­nar­ies.

Gil­lette truly reveres its past steps along the road to dis­pos­able-blade per­fec­tion. It sees fa­thers pass­ing on “the knowl­edge” to sons, each gen­er­a­tion hav­ing its ra­zor.

So while Ap­ple at last dis­con­tin­ued the iPod Clas­sic, you can still buy Gil­lette’s first ever use-and-throw­away ra­zor to­day. The prod­uct churn is a never-end­ing nar­ra­tive, and it sure as hell doesn’t end just be­cause you think three blades on a shaver is enough.

To clar­ify, I was vis­it­ing to see the brand’s new FlexBall vari­ant on its Fu­sion ProGlide lines. Peo­ple mock ad­vances such as this – “Why do I need more blades? What’s the point of the powered ones? Why’s there a f**king ball on my ra­zor now?”

Here’s the thing, though: the ex­pe­ri­ence of us­ing the FlexBall is su­perla­tive. But then so was us­ing the one be­fore that, and the one be­fore that, all the way back to the Mach III. We’re talk­ing over two decades of lit­tle, tiny, life-im­prov­ing in­cre­ments to my shav­ing hap­pi­ness and ease.

The drive that per­me­ates the ra­zormeis­ters’ grey lair is noth­ing to sneer at. This is tech cre­ation in its high­est form: solv­ing an os­ten­si­bly mun­dane prob­lem with to­tal, bor­der­line-mad in­ten­sity. It’s a mag­nif­i­cent ob­ses­sion.

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