Darren Criss and Business Partners Talk Unisex Skincare Line

Courtesy Onekind
Matthew and Madison Ruggieri with Darren Criss

"There is certainly a disparity between the popularity and more obvious nature of women's beauty products. It's historically not as much of a male-oriented thing," Criss tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We were trying to level that playing field a little bit."

Brands like Chanel Beauty and Tom Ford Beauty have started dabbling in men's cosmetics, releasing a series of glam goods for guys. But not all beauty products are created equal. Much like the pink tax phenomenon (whereby women's pink razors, for example, typically cost more than men's gray razors), foundation and skin care are often priced and marketed differently for men and women. Business leaders don't believe men will pay as much for skin care as women do — at least, that's what the founders of men's grooming site The Motley were told.

Siblings Matthew and Madison Ruggieri, armed with their business partner, Emmy winner Darren Criss, set out to develop unisex skin care that is priced the same for all genders — not only to subvert the pink tax, but also to encourage men to develop skin care routines when they may be hindered by "all these kind of norms that are just downright archaic," Criss tells The Hollywood Reporter.

"We were always told there is a cap on how much men will spend," Madison tells THR. "So we have always had to price everything — our most expensive item right now is $44 — so basically under that, and even that is a stretch. But then you go to women's and it's insane. You could spend $350 on a little jar."

Their solution is the new company Onekind, which debuts Oct. 1 with the Dream Cream Nighttime Moisturizer ($38) and Midnight Magic PM Serum ($42), available at the skin-care destination Heyday in Los Angeles and New York, as well as online.

Criss observed that a lot of modern-day, successful lifestyle businesses are non-gendered — such as SoulCycle and Barry's Bootcamp. "It is a funny thing that we decided however many hundreds of years ago that we would divide this industry into two 'norms,'" Criss says. "Can you imagine if there was a women's salt and a men's salt? I wish I was the genius that thought of that. Like if I was an evil genius 100 years ago and I convinced the market that there is a men's one and a female one, and I just jacked up the price. … At the end of the day it's the same fuckin' shit in there."

As a consumer of men's beauty himself, the co-founder adds, "This new wave of non-gendered products is also really beneficial in the way that we think of our skin itself, that it's not a men's product or a woman's product and that there is a oneness to all this stuff." He should know: Though he's not the first star to release beauty products — Millie Bobby Brown just bowed her line Florence by Mills at Ulta and Tracee Ellis Ross debuted her natural haircare brand Pattern Beauty — he is one of the rare male stars to go this route.

The Ruggieris started working with Criss in 2013, three years after launching The Motley. In the early days, Madison says it was a lot of "101" basics, teaching men how to wash their face. Now they've found their customer base has "matured way beyond that" and is looking for anti-aging products, eye gels and face masks. "So the conversation has definitely evolved over the last 10 years," Madison says.

"The dialogue has felt like it has shifted a little bit," Criss agrees. "The main topic then was, 'How can we get men interested in men's grooming?' even as a concept. … I wouldn't call it a stigma, but there is certainly a disparity between the popularity and more obvious nature of women's beauty products. It's historically not as much of a male-oriented thing. And so I think when we were starting it, we were trying to level that playing field a little bit."

For Onekind, they surveyed friends and family about what was missing from skin-care essentials and ultimately whittled down the ingredient list to only the necessities (and forgoing random additions like flakes of gold also helps cut costs for consumers).

Matthew, who heads up product development, says it was all about reducing the formula to the "bare bones" of what's needed. "Because in beauty, you often just add a bunch of these label-claim type ingredients that don't actually do anything. And so we're like, 'All right, let's strip it all back. Let's make sure that everything in the product is actually doing something,'" he says.

They knew immediately they wanted to develop a night cream that "felt natural but luxurious." Theirs uses plant-derived squalene to hydrate, rosehip oil to brighten and chamomile, aloe vera, essential oils and barley seed to soothe (Onekind is silicone-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free and synthetic fragrance-free). 

Criss believes the level of interest in skin care partially depends on upbringing and maybe on city of residence, saying, "I'm a metropolitan, coastal guy, so that might be just limited to my world. There is still a larger world out there where people are shifting their ways of thinking." 

He got into skin care from an early age, because his mom insisted that he wash his face while growing up. As he got older, he cared about the way that his skin looked, "like everybody does. "They might pretend they don't, but the comparison I always used … again, this is speaking in very bro, hetero-normative stereotypes here, but you’re worried about your car, a nice leather jacket … these are things that you care about and you like and you want to present the best version of yourself."

In the same way, Criss has always taken an interest in skin care and how various products and habits yield different results. "I'm the kind of guy who likes to understand how every wheel turns, how every cog moves in everything in my life. It's a curse and a blessing," he says. "As an artist, I always want to know how things are functioning and what I can do to have myself function better with it and help other people try and function with it better as well. So that's just sort of a life-long obsession. … Like anybody else, I'm looking for the best version of myself. And in so doing, I'm looking for the best products, too."

He well may have created them.