I’m the kind of freak who leaves the phone notifications on in my social media apps. There’s a guy on Instagram who sometimes sells Crush Gals records from Japan. There’s a Facebook group full of men who suddenly decide that a 1985 Hulk Hogan trading card that I’ve had in a desk drawer for awhile is worth $120. There’s the whole of Twitter, the hole that is Twitter. I’m as bad at following through on those notifications as I am at answering personal e-mails, but one notification I always open, without fail, is the one on Instagram alerting me that Minoru Suzuki is live streaming.
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I love Minoru Suzuki. I’ve never written about him in this space, not really, but he is one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, if not the favorite, full stop. I’ve avoided writing about him except as a foil because there’s something about the depth of my appreciation for his work that eludes description, whereas I can tell you exactly why I love Toru Yano, Asuka, or Lex Luger. I love him as the young face of Pancrase. I love him as a freelancer. I love him as All Japan’s Triple Crown Champion. I love him when he teams with Yoshihiro Takayama. I love him as the leader of Suzuki-gun. I’d stop short of calling him ageless, but his late career stretch with NJPW has featured several incredible, brutal, violent matches and a slew of good feuds. He presses my buttons, I guess. All of them. All the time.
So yeah, I watch his live streams on Instagram. This week, the two that I dropped in on were just videos of him showing off stock at Piledriver, his boutique clothing store in the Harajuku district of Tokyo. I don’t understand Japanese and I can’t afford to import a Gotch Style Piledriver t-shirt, but there’s something calming about the experience, the five minutes or so where I’m just a niche retailer watching another niche retailer hype his wares. I hate doing it, and I hate watching other people do it, but when MiSu flashes a handful of Piledriver face masks to the camera, I feel at peace.
I’ve spent a lot of time during the pandemic daydreaming about the places I’d like to go once it is safe to go anywhere. One of those places is Japan, for the reason you’d expect. There’s a lot of restaurants owned by wrestlers in Japan. There’s Toudoukan, the wrestling and MMA memorabilia store, which has around 12,000 wrestling magazines in stock. There’s the wrestling, obviously, and probably some other stuff that has nothing to do with wrestling. And then there’s Piledriver.
A Castle for the King
Where I live, there’s a flea market that has a couple of buildings for semi-permanent vendor stalls. The exterior of these stalls are uniformly unassuming, just a hole in a wall with a metal security door that rolls up and down, but the interiors are fascinating and intimate, the owner’s personality as available for the stranger to browse as the VHS tapes, t-shirts printed with the cover artwork of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures mapped over Lt. Commander Worf’s forehead, and black velvet paintings with wild asking prices attached to them.
I realize that what I’ve just described is any store that exists outside of the chain/big box paradigm, but for a very long time Piledriver existed in my brain as a logo and not a physical space. My sense of the store’s dimensions are off because I haven’t been there, but it looks about the size of two nice storage units, which is about all you need with stock as specific as Suzukis. It features track lighting, bare concrete floors, a black-and-white color palate on the walls, wooden displays, a couple pieces of furniture, and a potted plant by the door. It largely sells shirts, jackets, bags, socks, and other accessories. In its spareness, it is perfect.
I am in love with this space and its specificity because it is so specific to my sense of his style. Suzuki dresses plainly—expensively, but plainly—in most of his selfies. He famously loves Stance socks. He rotates between Atlantic Stars shoes from Italy, an impressive array of wingtip shoes, and leather boots whose labels I can’t quite make out, but are punching well above Doc Martens. His jeans are normally distressed, his t-shirts are uniformly crisp, and he effortlessly pulls off the much beleaguered fedora. In December, he flashed a ludicrously gaudy watch on Instagram, but it works so well on him that I wasn’t even dismayed to find out that it’s based on the golden snitch from Harry Potter, that it was limited to 300 pieces by Tendence, its manufacturer, and that the asking price is a little shy of $2,000. I imagine he has other watches that are not based on Harry Potter.
GOTCH STYLE UNIVERSITY スウェット/印ホワイト ¥6820- https://t.co/yRKPuHF7Kz
GOTCH STYLE UNIVERSITY スウェット/宝ブラック ¥6820-https://t.co/imkzemQx1l
— PILEDRIVER公式 (@_PILEDRIVER_) February 9, 2021
It’s a relatively simple template, one that almost everybody works from and pulls off to some extent, but Suzuki’s game is elevated by the kind of confidence bred from working as a public badass for over 30 years. What’s changed most about Suzuki’s appearance in his life as a wrestler/fighter, age aside, is his hair, which has gone from the thick, lustrous coif of his Pancrase days to a patterned shave. His trunks have evolved, too, from the plain black wrestler panties of an MMA killer to the black-with-dark-grey-accents wrestler panties of a former MMA killer who is just having some fun. And, of course, his towel.
It’s a simple, elegant look, one that invites the fan to pay more attention to the man in the ring than the clothing he wears. The way Suzuki carries himself in the ring is enough. He is so confident, so mean, that he requires no additional adornment. That confidence carries over to the slices of his life he curates for Instagram, to the extent that I find myself praising a man for wearing jeans and a t-shirt. To the extent that when he wears a shirt that reads “Boston Crab of the Soul” I find myself willing to kill for that shirt.
So Piledriver is a simple endeavor, repeating the Gotch Style Pile Driver motif in different permutations. Right now the big one is a Gotch Style University shirt that’s a riff on college athletic department shirts that exist exclusively for college freshmen to buy for their emotionally distant dads on Father’s Day. It’s available in five colors but would work in 500. What’s true of the brand is true of the man, which is what separates Piledriver from the recent-ish onslaught of wrestler-owned fashion labels: They’re a reflection of the wrestler himself, and that wrestler’s personality in and out of the ring, his aura, his look, are as much a part of him as the trade he plies. They go together like legs and feet, if you will. A perfect circle. A king in his castle.
Minoru Suzuki isn’t listed as an official brand ambassador of Stance socks and apparel—something the company refers to, horribly enough, as its “Punks & Poets” program, enlisting celebrities on a coolness spectrum that ranges from Rihanna to PGA golfer Bubba Watson—but he ought to be. His collection of socks is a main feature of his social media presence. One day they’re a design based on Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the next they feature the logo of Tapatío hot sauce.
There’s an obvious reason to do this—in making those socks as much a part of his look as the fedora, the rack of Stance socks in Piledriver is an easy, fun, and comparatively inexpensive way to engage with the fashion of the store’s proprietor. It’s an advertisement for his business as much as for the socks themselves. Stance is decidedly a brand for the techbro set and comedy nostalgists. Design wise, it’s strange that a company thought to get a license for Superbad in 2021, and the majority its officially licensed sports franchise socks focus on California teams, owing, perhaps, to the company’s home in California.
Stance’s marketing utilizes the word “innovation” like a cudgel. I’m not trying to be Professor Wikipedia, but the history of the garment dates back to at least the 8th century BCE, the Romans made socks from woven fabric in the 2nd century CE, and there are cotton crew socks with lovely, nigh modern designs from Egypt from the 12th century. We have the whole sock thing pretty nailed down, to the point that they’re a fashion afterthought, the idea of “innovation” lost to human history centuries ago. Trying to sell a pair of $15 socks with a cartoon representation of Happy Gilmore on them is only innovation insofar as the price is concerned. You can buy a 12-pack of Hanes for less than the cost of most single pairs of Stance’s socks. You could easily be excused for not seeing the point, which was a stance I happily maintained on the subject since “fun” socks ceased being a means of rebellion against Catholic high school dress codes.
But if buying a pair of socks at Piledriver is cheaper than buying a shirt, it’s absolutely cheaper than buying and importing a shirt from Piledriver. So I did it. I bought socks from a company that boasts that it “hired a rocket scientist,” a phrase that puts them one “disrupting the ____ industry” away from start-up marketing bingo. I’m wearing a pair of Willie Nelson crew socks at the moment, and while I can’t say that I feel like a lonely warrior tonight, I do like them for non-Willie reasons. They’re well-constructed, soft, and don’t pill the way my cheaper socks tend to, which makes for a cleaner sneakers/shorts, sneakers/skirt, or sneakers/dress combo when I’m not feeling no-show socks, which is almost always.
On me, they’re just socks. On Suzuki, a pair of socks featuring Scar from The Lion King is an oddity, a pop of color hiding in the just beneath a fairly monochrome outfit. But that, too, is part of his allure to me as a fan. He is serious. He is deadly. He’s all clean lines and sharp angles as a professional wrestler. And yet, he feuded with Toru Yano for a few years. He wrestled Mecha Mummy. He doesn’t discriminate in choosing his opponents based on gender. He hangs with Taichi. Like a well-executed outfit, Minoru Suzuki has layers. He’ll choke you out and look good doing it. He’ll hit you with a Gotch Style Piledriver in the ring and sell you a Gotch Style Piledriver shirt after the show. If only every wrestler were so versitile.