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Splitting Hairs  
Our columnist conducts what is believed to be the world’s first Mach3-Mach3Turbo faceoff  

    Dec. 3 —  Lately, my mind has been preoccupied with whiskers. But this time, it wasn’t filled with images of newly freed Afghanis hurriedly shaving off their grubby, Tali-beards. No, this time I was thinking of shavers closer to home.  

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  ECONOMISTS TELL US we’re in a recession, but that hasn’t deterred Gillette, a company so well-known that it doesn’t need a clunky, descriptive clause such as this to identify it, from unveiling a new razor “system” that will sell for nearly $10. That makes it the world’s most expensive mass-market shaver. Gillette humbly calls it the “Mach3Turbo.”
        Now, this may sound like an odd time to voice such a concern—and, indeed, it may even sound like an odd concern—but America stands at a crossroads. And I just don’t think the path America should choose is the path marked by the Mach3Turbo.
        I make this assessment based on several observations. For one, it’s not as if the public has been clamoring for a replacement to the three-year-old Mach3—the world’s first triple-blade shaving system.
Now, this may sound like an odd time to voice such a concern—and, indeed, it may even sound like an odd concern—but America stands at a crossroads.

       And the original Mach3 was nearly a self-parody, a space-age, DeSoto grill of a razor with super-premium prices and a ridiculous ad campaign showing the razor jetting through the sky at three times the speed of sound.
        But what did I know? Mach3 has already seized a quarter of the entire male shaving market.
        Of course, that was during the longest economic expansion in our nation’s history. Could Gillette really be so egotistical to believe that America will cough up more money to “turbo”-charge their Mach3?
        And not simply America, but American men, a subspecies of the human race that is not at all like women when it comes to personal appearance. Face it, the typical male spends more on video games than on hygiene products. A man’s idea of “effective grooming” is a husband who satisfies his wife on his wedding night. And most men will continue to wear the same underwear until it can scarcely function as mosquito netting.
        These guys are going to spend $9 for a razor? If we do that, haven’t the terrorists won?
        I knew that if I called Gillette for comment, the company would immediately FedEx over a dozen Mach3Turbo cartridges, a couple of Titanium-clad handles, fancy shaving gel, some deodorant (are they trying to tell me something?) and even some refrigerator magnets.
        But I was after bigger quarry (this time). I was investigating a watershed moment in our culture: The introduction of a razor blade system so preposterous, so overbearing, so swaggering that a movie version of it would star William Shatner.
        I called Gillette, and, sure enough, the next day I was greeted with a package that will ensure that I will not be in the market for shaving products for the next 18 months. I began my investigation there.
        According to the Mach3 package, the razor has “patented DLC comfort edges ... so Mach3 glides effortlessly and comfortably across your face.” M3, as I call it, also has “an advanced Indicator ® lubricating strip with a blue stripe that fades away when you are no longer getting the optimal MACH3 shaving experience.” And, of course, it has the patented three-blade design.
        Mach3Turbo, by contrast, offers “the next generation triple-blade razor for the closest shave with less irritation—even when shaving against the grain.” (What am I, flank steak?) Instead of DLC comfort edges, M3T blades are “Anti-Friction” ® blades. M3T also offers 10 “soft, protective Microfins” on the leading edge of the cartridge, as opposed to a mere five on the M3. And that lubricating strip? It’s no longer merely “advanced.” It’s now “Enhanced”—also trademarked—”to keep your Mach3Turbo gliding shave after shave.”
        I assumed this was all just a load of marketing hogwash, so I called Gillette’s grooming president Peter Hoffman, who explained the innovations behind Gillette’s ostentatious trademarking. First, the blades. While he wouldn’t reveal the actual science of them, Hoffman said that they’re now covered with a patented anti-friction coating. “It’s the thinnest substrate on the market!” he said. “It allows the turbo to cut through hair much cleaner.”
        I disputed Hoffman’s ability to make such an assertion, but he explained that during the testing phase, Gillette actually puts small cameras on the heads of its razors and employs clear shaving cream so the footage can be analyzed later.
        OK, so maybe they’ve come up with a better blade, but what about that lubricating strip? “This is a significantly improved lubricating strip system!” Hoffman said. “We’ve taken the main component, polyox, which was introduced on the Atra years ago, and added polycaprolactone, which is an enabling ingredient.” (Yawn. Everyone knows that.)
        Still skeptical, I asked about the Microfins. Weren’t five enough? “We’ve had a breakthrough in the molding process!” Hoffman said. “Now, we can mold them in a narrower fashion to give the razor more effective skin management.”
        I’ll remember that next time I’m having skin labor problems. Convinced that Hoffman was selling me a one-way ticket to Fantasyland, I hounded him on the issue of introducing a luxury item during a crypto-depression.
        “Over a year, shaving with Mach3Turbo works out to 10 cents a shave,” he said. “There is no other consumer product where you can say, ‘This is the best product in the world and it’s only going to cost me $34 a year.’ You could be the president of the United States or Warren Buffett, but you can’t buy a better shave.”
        Unable to reach Warren Buffett on deadline, I conducted what is believed to be the world’s first M3-M3T faceoff, conveniently enough, on my face.

Dec. 10 issue coverage:
•  National News
•  International News
Previous Coverage:
•  Oct. 29 Issue : The Ground War's First Shots
•  Oct. 22 Issue: Counterstrikes and Scares
•  Oct. 15 Issue: Plumbing the Roots of Rage
•  Oct. 8 Issue: Bioterror, The New Threat
•  Oct. 1 Issue: Trail Of Terror
•  Sept. 24 Issue: God Bless America
•  Commemorative Edition: Spirit of America
•  Extra Edition: America Under Attack
•  Web-exclusive Archives
       I quickly discovered that the hundred scientists employed by Hoffman in Gillette’s Shaving Technology Laboratory were onto something. As someone who typically shaves with a rusty cartridge that I replace every year or so, I could feel the difference right away. Both M3 and M3T glided over my neck, thanks, no doubt, to the can of professional shaving gel Gillette had sent me. But in the end, I was forced to admit that the M3T—for all its hype—performed noticeably better than the M3 (damn these journalistic codes of honor).
        But then I remembered that I’m a guy—and as such, would never spend $4 on a can of shaving gel. Testing Gillette shavers under these conditions was like giving the company the home-field advantage. How, I wondered, would these high-tech blades perform on the road, namely, in the shower with nothing but a thin patina of Ivory soap between my neck and three sharpened steel blades?
        And the answer is: Not very well. (Hoffman, perhaps sensing my slovenliness by phone, cautioned against such austerity shaving. He also cited Gillette “research” that showed a dramatic improvement in hair removal when men allow shaving cream to sit on their face for a few minutes “rather than just slathering it on and shaving it off.” Who’s got the time for such beard-babying?)
        And in my subsequent tests, the wheels really came rattling off the Turbo. Sometime between shave two and three, those much-vaunted lubricating strips got all gummy and lost their effectiveness. Meanwhile, M3’s strips held their ground.
        Now, you could argue that I should’ve taken greater care to dry off the Turbo cartridges before returning them to their plastic “docking bay,” pampering them like you’d pamper a champion show dog. Well, sorry, but my bathroom ain’t the Gillette Shaving Technology Lab and I didn’t get my Ph.D in hair microscopy.
        I’m just a guy. Give me a rusty Atra any day.

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post. His Web site is at
       © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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