Peter York on Ads

Gillette: The cleanest, smoothest, brush with masculinity
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Skincare for men. It's all you hear about nowadays. When any two modern men are gathered together they'll be facing up to modern skincare issues. I'm perfectly serious here. Allegedly heterosexual types, happy husbands and fathers, will ask each other about moisturisers and SPF factors and exfoliating and the lot. They'll confront their feelings without hitting anyone or putting on silly voices.

At the GQ Men of the Year Awards party this week (it's brilliantly elitist and deeply demotic all at the same time, which takes some doing I can tell you) I was on a table involving Naomi Campbell and John Galliano. This meant other A-listers came in a constant stream to be photographed sharing a joke with John and Naomi and the table hosted a shifting population all evening. John and Naomi both had lovely skincare in their different ways.

The event was sponsored by something called Lab Series: Skincare for Men. I don't know what they do but it sounds deeply logical, like those Japanese "cosmeceuticals". It sounds as if it might actually work. Historically skincare for men has been advertised with everything from test piloting to smartly rugged sports to City Success, to develop a series of alibis and ways to distance it from anyone who simply wanted to look better. Not to survive a blizzard or increase Return On Capital Employed, but for its own sake.

That kind of alibi advertising (the creative brief will have said we must not have the brand associated with poofs or poncey foreigners) always hits a hysterical note. You're slathering on moisturiser? It's for her. Or to save the planet. No one was ever fooled.

The heartland of skincare for men always was shaving. A good shave could turn you out nicely depilated, exfoliated and the rest. It was the registered alibi for putting on soothing slop and scent ("aftershave"). No one talks about balm or aftershave now - moisturiser and cologne officially exist - but shaving remains central because if it goes wrong it's still hell. Comic cuts staunched with paper still happen, and bad blades can raise rashes and weird red patches and hurt feelings. It's not the same order of heroism as a Brazilian, but it's still important.

Which is why there's such furious competition to launch the definitive wet-shaving system. Men will quietly pay a huge premium not to be ripped and torn. You thought the sealed twin-blade capsule was The End Of History but since then they've gone to three blades - the Gillette Mach 3, which then went Turbo - to four - the Wilkinson Sword Quattro - and now to five.

Remember that story that the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo was the most shoplifted item in supermarkets. (Boots used to make you present a card at the counter for your Mach 3 Turbos, they didn't trust you not to pocket them.) It was that important in the secret life of men.

Gillette had David Beckham and that wonderful Top Gun Eighties line: "The best a man can get." Wilkinson had their ceremonial swords. The whole thing was absurd yet wonderful.

They don't seem to have a wonder-word for five, so the latest development, the Gillette five-bladed razor, is called Fusion. "Introducing the miracle of Fusion," they say in the new commercial, as two white-coated scientists loom over tubes of flame, one blue, one orange. It looks richly comic, but they're deadly serious. Gillette now belongs to Proctor and Gamble, the heartland of formulaic American "scientific" advertising, and they don't do irony. The blue and orange flames zip around a circle of transparent piping in a dramatic way and meet in the middle to produce the ultimate five-bladed shaving solution. And here comes the science bit: the P&G computer-generated product exposition. You see, until now pressure from blades could cause irritation. The single, double, triple or even quadruple blades could dig in cruelly deep, "but Fusion has five blades placed to reduce irritation". They sail over skin in a thoroughly considerate way. A model the colour of a glazed peach demonstrates the upstrokes and the special trimmer for his trickier places (sideburns, under the nose). It has to be said, he isn't David Beckham, although he looks as if he's up with the highest skincare standards going.

The razor flies around a bit, showing its comic book computer games design and then a latter-day Cindy Crawford-ish blonde feels up the peach-man. It's the best ever, manual or battery powered. God knows how much those five-fold blades'll actually cost. Maybe they're £5 each. But I've got to have it.