You probably best know actor, singer-songwriter and musician Darren Criss as the impeccably groomed Blaine Anderson on "Glee," which started airing its fifth season Sept. 26. Off-screen, the 26-year-old is just as serious about high-quality grooming products as his alter ego — so much so that over the summer, he made the leap from consumer to investor and third partner in a Silver Lake-based e-tailer of men's grooming products called the Motley alongside the site's founding siblings, Matthew and Madison Ruggieri.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Criss about his personal style and what he brings to the Motley crew.
You're an unabashed fan of grooming products. What's the origin of that?
From a mother who always made me wash my face growing up and suddenly, when I was on my own, I was like, "OK, I guess I've got to keep this up but I don't want the same stuff you can buy at the corner store." It was about upping my game a little bit. Combine that with having to cake my face with makeup every day, which is so not a good thing for your skin, and I started searching out things, learning a lot about products.
And how did you end up finding your way to the Motley?
It was very organic. A friend of mine who knows Matt Ruggieri told me to check out the website. I immediately saw a golden opportunity to be involved with something amazing, so I would have been a fool not to have gotten in contact with them. So I met with Matthew and Madison and said, "Let me know if there is anything I could do to be a part of this."
What will you be doing?
I think so far I've helped with visibility — bringing the [site] to a wider audience. But I've kind of been all over the place, [helping with] marketing strategy, product development. We were just over at the lab we have in Chatsworth, going through the chemical compounds of things and working on some more of our own products.
What kind of products?
Without giving too much away, it's sort of expanding on what we're doing with [our cologne] Atlas. We're near the end of the testing process, and we're really happy with what we have.
Do you have a favorite grooming product, one that's always in your Dopp kit?
I have lots of favorites.
Say you're on a desert island and you could have just one thing.
[Laughing] I'd probably want something that would nourish me, so I wouldn't die. But, if I was the vainest person alive — and all I cared about were grooming products — I'd have to say the Raw Materials [Skin Grit] face scrub.
Based on the way you hit the red carpet, you're as enthusiastic about clothes as you are about grooming. Do you work with a stylist?
I've always been proud of my sense of style, so when it was first suggested that I work with a stylist, I remember thinking, "No way, man! I don't want someone telling me what to wear." But what I realized is that a stylist isn't telling you what to wear as much as getting you what you want because you don't have the time and they have the connections. So, yes, my stylist, Ashley Weston, is a very good friend of mine, she's wonderful, and any time we do something it's an absolute collaboration.
How does the process work?
We think about what kind of event it is — you're not going to wear what you wore to the VMAs to the Golden Globes, for example. One of my general mantras in life is: "Dress for the party." [Ashley] and I are pretty much in sync on that at this point, so she'll come to me with maybe five or six looks and we'll pick and choose [from that]. It turns out to be a really cool collaboration every single time and it's fun for me because I really get to paint a picture.
If we went to Rodeo Drive to go clothes shopping and I said, "Go!" Where would you head?
It depends. How much time do we have? I'm a big believer in a good tailor, and I think most men don't know the power of a good tailor. A good tailor and a good cobbler might sound a little old-fashioned, but for not very much money, an $80 suit can look like a $200 suit. For me, it's all about having things that fit.
Any other advice?
One thing that drives me nuts is when a guy buys a suit jacket and he wears it with the vent in the back still stitched shut. I was in the stairwell the other day behind a guy and I just wanted to reach out and cut it.
Describe your typical off-camera outfit.
I like a nice, comfy, loose-fabric T-shirt. I don't like a lot of prints or designs. I like simplicity. When I need to wear socks, I like colorful socks, but in L.A. it's always hot so I'll go without socks and wear a nice pair of boat shoes or moccasins. Oh, and a nice pair of sweat pants.
Last question: With Halloween just around the corner, we're wondering what you'd wear if you were going to a costume party dressed as Darren Criss.
This is probably a little cliche, but I'd have to go with the Warblers' outfit — the navy blue blazer with the red piping — because it's sort of a signature. But that's really Blaine and not me. For Darren, I'd go with a T-shirt, sweat pants and scruff, wearing glasses and carrying a guitar — and holding a phone to my head.