Gillette Guard: Single-blade cartridge
I’m trying the Bic Metal (shave report here) and the Gillette Guard as possible travel razors (i.e., allowed by TSA in carry-on luggage). These certainly are good travel razors in terms of weight:
Bic Metal: 4g
Gillette Guard: 10g
Bakelite Slant: 18g
Edwin Jagger DE86bl (faux-ebony handle): 64g
Performance is perfectly satisfactory for a trip. The Bic Metal has an extremely narrow head (full width, but a minuscule depth), which reduces lather capacity of the razor too much for comfortable daily use.
The Guard is quite interesting from a marketing point of view. Gillette and Bic took different approaches, but they had different goals. Bic wanted to bring usable razors to market at the lowest possible cost, and the entire design is (so far as I can see) by cost reduction. The handle is barely more than a plastic soda straw: materials costs are totally minimized.
Gillette wanted to sell into a market that cannot afford high prices, so costs also drive this design. But Gillette also wants to plant the shaver’s foot firmly on the cartridge escalator so that later, for very little more, the shaver can buy two-blade cartridges which are, as the advertisements will doubtless proclaim, much better than the single-blade cartridges the Guard uses. You know the story. What we see in India now is only the first chapter.
So Gillette put a lot of design dollar into the handle: it has deeply incised chequering on strips on the front and back, giving a secure grip (more secure than required for a 10g razor) and, more important, a definite sense of precision and permanence: this is not some use-and-toss implement. The sides of the handle are ribbed, the brand-name is large and tastefully silvered, and it’s quite comfortable to hold: it fits the hand well. In addition, of course, it is dead simple to make once the molds are made, and the spring action of the arms is baked into the handle.
The cartridge is also very nicely designed: easy to load and has the advantage of the cartridge pivot, transferring angle control from shaver to razor. I got a very nice BBS shave in three passes, using the superb coconut lather the WSP Monarch HMW brought forth from Honeybee Soaps Caribbean Coconut, a wonderful soap. And I did recognize again that Honeybee Shaving Soaps need a bit more water than you might expect.
I think the “permanence” of the Guard handle and the quality of its design moves this razor inside the ego boundary: the Bic Metal is something you shave with and discard: no attachment. The Guard you shave with and because you keep the handle and it’s nicely designed and comfortable to use, the handle becomes mine, something I own, that is a part of the set of possessions that define the extended me. The cartridges are easily replaced and cheap (they are packaged in single-cartridge envelopes, so you can buy just one or two) and readily discarded, but the handle stays around: a seed for the shaving collection.
It was a pretty good shave, but I noticed that I actively control blade angle myself now that I use a DE regularly. The Guard maintained the same identical angle over all my face, but in some places (I now realize) the “correct” angle does not work so well as a slightly steeper angle. After years of shaving I find that I make minute angle adjustments without thinking about it—just under my jawline in front, for example, requires a slight steepness in the ATG/XTG passes. I realized that I was not getting an optimal shave with the Guard because I no longer could control blade angle, and in some places I could definitely feel that the default angle was not so good as a different angle would have been. OTOH, I am at this point a skilled shaver, and I have a bathroom with good plumbing and good lighting, so I am undoubtedly far removed from the target demographic for the Guard.
And, of course, with the Guard you cannot choose the brand of blade that works best for you: you go with the blade and the bevel the Guard offers, and that’s it. DE shavers who have had direct experience of the wide variation in cutting quality of DE blades will understand immediately that being tied to one single brand of blade is extremely restrictive.
On the whole, I imagine that the Guard will succeed, and Gillette/P&G marketing remains a strong force in the company: Gillette is run by marketers, I would say, and Bic by engineers. What will be interesting to observe is how India reacts to the price elevator.