At 7 a.m., five days a week, about 70 men badge into an industrial complex in Reading, on the western outskirts of London. A technician leads them down a hallway to cubicles, where they shave in front of mirrors mounted with high-definition cameras.
On the other side of the mirrors, Gillette’s team of blade sommeliers—trained to describe the smoothness of the glide, the stubbornness of the stubble, the pace at which the foam rinses off, and the sound the steel makes when it guillotines hair—debate the effectiveness of razors in development. If they want a closer look at the coarseness of a shaver’s hair or the exact angle at which it bolts from the follicle, a microscope can produce a 3D rendering of each whisker accurate to 5 micrometers. It’s the only instrument of its kind, and it took the company five years to develop with a military contractor that also designs simulators for fighter pilots.
“You’re really working out the mechanical aspect of just removing the hair, but you’re also looking at where the follicle, hair, skin, and sebum are all coming together,” says Joia Spooner-Fleming, a vice president for research and development at Procter & Gamble Co., which owns Gillette. “It’s kind of like Jerusalem.”