Venus Envy for Gillette's Rivals

The giant's triple-blade women's razor sets a new standard. Too bad about that overdone packaging -- and high price

By Heesun Wee

Let's face it -- for many of us gals, shaving is a drag. But hairy legs don't make me feel feminine, and waxing can be torturous (and doing it regularly could require taking out a second mortgage). So when I heard consumer-products giant Gillette Co. (G ), maker of the famed Mach 3 shaver for men, was unveiling a new triple-blade razor just for women, I volunteered to give it a go.

When it comes to gadgets and potions that promise to make temporary removal of unsightly hair less of a mind-numbing chore, I've tried them all -- from cheap disposable razors to smelly creams that shock the hair off your legs. If you don't conk out in your bathroom from the strong chemical odor, that is.

I've even tried rubbing the hair off my legs with a product that resembles fine sandpaper. I'm talking about the Hair Off Mitten, from CCA Industries Inc. (CCAM ) in East Rutherford, N.J. You slip your fingers through a small sleeve of "Sil-Coat" finished paper and rub your hairy legs in a circular motion. The friction that's created with the rubbing motion essentially sloughs off the hair. Let's just say it wasn't for me.


  When I picked up the new Venus razor from Gillette, my first reaction was: Thank goodness it's not pink. After all, Gillette also makes those ubiquitous, Pepto Bismol-colored Daisy disposable shavers. But the Venus razor and accompanying storage case were an eye-pleasing blue that made me think of the ocean. And what about the name? Michele Szynal, a Gillette spokeswoman, explained the choice this way: "We were looking for a name that expressed the brand imagery. Venus is the goddess of beauty and love. She's the ultimate woman.... And she's powerful -- with clean-shaven legs." Gillette's Web site encourages you to "reveal the goddess in you."

Sounds good to me. After all, Venus was universally worshipped in ancient Rome. She gave birth to Cupid, and counted such gods as Mars, Adonis, and Vulcan as her lovers. If I used the Venus razor, could I snare a modern-day Adonis? Would I resemble butt-kicking Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? I quickly tore into the razor package.

Alas, unhinging the razor from its packaging was like wrestling with a cat -- I just kept getting scratched. After some cursing, I slashed through the stubborn plastic with a pair of scissors -- only to discover at that very moment an easy-open tab on the package's backside. Note to Gillette: You may want to put on package in big type, "Open Here." Even wannabe clean-shaven goddesses need a little help getting started.


  Once I got the razor out of its plastic casing, I realized I wasn't just getting a razor but an entire shaving system. In contrast to the Gillette Sensor Excel and Schick Silk Effects Plus razors -- whose handles are short and stubby -- the new Venus razor is long and narrow. While the elongated handle took a few minutes to get used to, I grew to like its feel -- especially the rubber around the handle. (Consumer Reports magazine tested 12 different women's razors five years ago. While opinions varied, nearly all the women liked rubberized handles.)

There was barely room on my already-crowded bathtub ledge for the razor and its accessories

The razor sits on top of what looks like a small pencil case. Tucked inside are several replacement blades, each individually wrapped. There's even a piece of plastic that could be used to attach the entire system on a shower wall. The point is Gillette doesn't want women (horror of horrors!) to step out of the shower, dripping wet, to replace a dull razor blade, according to the package's literature.

Honestly, the whole packaging thing was a bit too much for my taste. I placed my "razor system" on my bathtub ledge, already crowded with a jungle of regular shampoos, clarifying shampoos, daily conditioners, weekly deep conditioners, bars of soap, liquid body washes, bubble bath, body sponges, loofahs, pumice stones, and facial cleansers. As it was, I could barely find my way to the tub.


  Now about Venus' triple blade. Most women's razors have two blades. One of the few exceptions is the triple-blade K-3, part of the Noxzema Skin Fitness line of razors introduced in early 2000. But I can't find it in any of my local Manhattan drugstores, including the chains. A K-3 spokeswoman says I should go to Kmart instead. Oh.

As I began to focus on Venus' blade cartridge, it looked scary. The handles on most women's razors curve and cover the attached blades so the steel isn't visible. But the Venus is different. The top of the razor handle doesn't curve and conceal the blade cartridge, which is exposed -- three blades and all. Staring at all that steel, I had the brief sensation I was holding a vegetable peeler. Eek!

But after a deep breath, I placed the Venus blades on my leg and dragged gingerly. I immediately noticed the pivoting head was very sensitive and it took a few strokes to adjust. Next area to shave: my knobby knee. The razor worked like a dream. Following a few gentle scrapes, I realized shaving with a Venus is faster than with other razors. The reason is simple: If the first or second blades don't catch the hair, chances are the third one will. I only occasionally found myself going over the same patch of skin. You're also shaving more hair with each stroke because the blade's head boasts a much larger surface area than the average two-bladed razor.

Will women prefer Venus enough to shell out $8 for a razor, cartridges, and a storage compact?

In the end, my leg was hairless and smooth, and it took fewer strokes than I'm used to. The quick-and-easy experience -- even more than the comfortable razor handle, or smooth shave -- convinced me to try the razor again. But will other women prefer Venus enough to shell out $8 for a razor, cartridges, and a storage compact? A package of four refill cartridges will retail for about the same price. Razors range from less than a dollar apiece to $6 or $7 for a cartridge model.

Gillette's Venus is the priciest womens' razor on the market -- at least at my local drugstore. But the market has already demonstrated that the expensive triple-blade Mach 3 from Gillette is a real man-pleaser. I can see why men are willing to pay more for a triple-blade razor, because the face is a sensitive, contoured area. But a woman's leg essentially is a large surface with fewer twists and turns than a man's face.

Does a woman's leg need a pricey, triple-blade razor, too? Gillette is hoping the answer for many of us will be yes. At least in my case, time saved -- as much as vanity -- convinced me to give Venus another try, despite its price tag.

When she's not shaving her legs Wee, covers markets and investing for BusinessWeek Online

Edited by Beth Belton

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