The quest for Sta Prest: Nik Louis of Ivy Threads interviewed

The quest for the perfect pair of sta prest trousers is as old as humanity itself. However, it was only during a brief period between 1964 and some time in the 1970s that Levi’s produced immaculate perma-crease chinos from poly-cotton. Since then, humankind has been forced to put up with plenty of inferior product. As readers of this blog may remember, we often end up bitterly disappointed even when we put our hopes up high.

What distinguishes Nik Louis‘s brand Ivy Threads of Boston is its founder’s impressive knowledge of the original garments and a fanatical perfectionism otherwise only known from Japanese denim manufacturersCrombieboy talked to him about his plans to reproduce the original Sta Prest of the 1960s.

Hi Nik, what is your relationship to the skinhead world?

Well, I’ve been listening to reggae all my life. It started with The Harder They Come soundtrack that my father would always play for me and my brothers growing up. I’ve also been into clothing as long as I can remember. At the first punk show I went to in 2001, I met a crew of skinheads called the Scally Squad from Waltham, Massachusetts. I just thought they looked fucking cool. After hanging with those guys and meeting more people in the scene, I shaved my head and the rest is history.

Nik with Desmond Dekker in 2005
Nik and Desmond Dekker in 2005

When did you start Ivy Threads and what is your vision?

It started as a vintage wholesale business in 2006. Around 2013, I started producing shirts. My goal is to provide an option for people who are looking for clothing with the same silhouette, quality, and integrity as that of garments made 50+ years ago, as well as providing a product that is constructed of ethical fabrics and materials. The future will see suiting and many other garments and footwear made of hemp. It’s a great substitute for wool as it’s very insulating and has the benefit of being much more environmentally sustainable. I’d like the company to be as green as practicable.

Modern sta prest repros tend to be either toothpaste white  – Mikkel Rude springs to mind – or pale beige like Warrior’s and Relco’s ‘cream’ strides. Will yours be available in the original ivory off-white seen in some vintage pics?

Our sta prest will be available in a paper white colour. If I can find an off-white that has a decent ratio of polyester to cotton I’ll try it out. Right now, there is only one company I can find that offers a white in a 50/50 poly-cotton mix, which is the ratio that was most common for sta prest clothing in the sixties. Hopefully, we will progress to the point where we can afford to customise fabrics for better colours, textures, and weaves.

Do you remember the days of 68?

The original 60s Sta Prest were also available in colours that might be less popular today, such as bottle green. Will you take them into consideration?

Yes, bottle green is one of my favorite colours for trousers. Currently, I can’t get bottle green twill in a 50/50 poly-cotton, but I’m going to be experimenting using a poly-hemp fabric that comes in a very nice bottle green twill. The ratios are 77% hemp to 23% recycled poly. We’ll see how the creases hold up. It’s been my experience that as long as there is even just a bit of poly in the fabric, the crease will be permanent, though maybe not as sharp as the 50/50 mix. Time will tell…

What what other colours do you have planned?

Black, Navy, charcoal, gray, burgundy, sand, ice blue, mint green, and other pastels I all plan to use, just as long as I can find them. Of course, I’d really like to do some Prince of Wales check and tartans as well.

1970 statium bovver
Getting nicked in style: Danny Eccles in Sta Prest, 1970

Levi’s briefly reissued their Sta Prest circa 2011. How did you rate their repros?

I ordered a pair of tapered fit Levi’s Sta Prest from Stuarts London back around that time. I ended up giving them away. They were far too low-rise. My shirt wouldn’t stay tucked, nor could I wear them with braces as it would make them dig into the crotch. With any of this low-rise rubbish they produce today, if you try to wear a belt to keep them on the waist, it looks as if the back belt loop is clinging on for dear life while the rest of the trousers sag down to the hips. Forget wearing a t-shirt, if you bend over your bum will show.

The new version was also criticised for being much slimmer than the original strides. Can you confirm this, or was it more a case of “didn’t realise I gained some weight over the past 40 years”?

I didn’t mind the fit of the leg, it was probably a bit slimmer than the vintage Sta Prest slacks, but Levi’s did a trim cut and a ‘Nuvo’ fit back in the 60s that was similar. My main issue overall was the rise. The fabric was a bit soft, and although there was a crease in them it was hardly sharp. They were easier to fold like regular jeans than to fold along the crease. Of course, all the repro stuff lacks the quality of the vintage stuff.

A friend of mine had the 511 Sta Prest. The leg was slimmer, and the fabric was the wrong fibre ratios. I didn’t mind the way they looked except for the rise. I never saw a pair of the LVC Sta Prest cords in person. From pictures, they seem to also be lower rise than actual vintage ones.

Levi’s did a pair called the 306, which in pictures look to be an exact replica of the 518 slim fits. 518 was a jean that Levi’s produced in the 60s that also came in a Sta Prest format. I would have liked to have ordered a pair of 306s, but they were rare limited edition and were several hundred dollars. Now incredibly hard to find.

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Modern Warrior or Relco sta prest

How does the cut of cheap sta prest from mod and skinhead outlets such as Warrior and Relco differ from the original?

It’s always the fit and the fabric. Of course, the cheap contemporary trousers are slimmer and lower rise. To me, the rise is the most important factor, as it is key in achieving the classic 20th century silhouette. Trousers that sit on the waist create a more masculine silhouette for a man by accentuating the V taper of the back when he tucks his shirt in. For women, high-rise trousers create a more feminine silhouette by accentuating the hour-glass shape. Of course, lifting weights will enhance these qualities even more, but I digress…

Aside from the rise, what else you would criticise about them?

I don’t dig the colours or the quality of the fabrics these companies use. A friend of mine had a pair of Warrior sta prest that fell apart on him. The clasp came loose and tore through the fabric, and a few seams came undone.

Generally speaking, I feel as if these companies are producing mod/skinhead costumes. A lot of it either looks too cookie cutter or clownish. My goal is to return some integrity to the clothes. These should be garments that are aimed towards the collegiates and young professionals, but are coveted by mods and skinheads for their impeccable style and construction. It’s my understanding that in the 60s, the Ivy Shop and the Squire Shop were not ‘skinhead’ shops per se, but skinheads were a phenomenon of these shops. That’s more like what I hope to achieve with my brand being sold in Bobby From Boston.

The Ivy Threads/Nik Louis garments all come with a lifetime guarantee and complimentary tailoring. If you’re not completely satisfied for any reason whatsoever, we will issue a full refund. Not sure if any of the skinhead costume brands offer this kind of service.

I’m curious what exact fabrics Levi’s used for their Sta Prest?

 As I mentioned earlier, the original mix that was most commonly used by Levi’s and most companies at the time was 50/50 poly-cotton. Though there were some that may have been more cotton than poly or vice versa, and some that used rayon instead of cotton. I’m pretty sure Levi’s also did 50/50 poly-wool for winter weight Sta Prest. I know other companies did.

These 50/50 fabrics also came in a variety of different weaves, textures, weights, and colours. I remember I used to own a pair of bronze and blue tonic Levi’s Sta Prest. This was many years ago, and I kick myself thinking of all the stuff I wish I hadn’t sold.

I’m not sure how they did it, but all the fabrics back then were far sturdier. Even if they were very light weight and soft, they wouldn’t crinkle or lose their strength regardless of how much you wore or washed them.

1970 skinhead couple
1970: Sta Prest with turnups

What mix or mixes will you use?

Diversitex is the only company I know of now that mass produces the 50/50 poly cotton fabric for Fabric.com. This fabric works well for the sta prest, but it only comes in twill format. I’d really like to do some sta prest in a hopsack weave, though that will probably have to wait until I can afford to customise my own fabrics. Unless I come across a fabric company wise enough to produce such a material, that is.

Regarding design and features, are you planning to remain one hundred per cent faithful to the original, or will you add some quirk, maybe even improvement?

It’s hard to improve on a garment as pure as the original Levi’s or Lee sta prest trousers. But comparing the sample I have from Martin Greenfield to the vintage pairs I gave them to repro, the construction of the Martin Greenfield trousers is much cleaner. I will be staying true to the original pattern and get as close as I can to the colours and aesthetics with the fabrics I can find now. There will be the addition of a hidden coin pocket at the seam of the waistband. We have a pair I call the 007s – they on the same pattern, but they will have some fancier details and will be produced in hemp/rayon and linen as well as sta prest format.

Let me show you a picture of some samples I’ve had made. The blue and red are the classic sta prest, and the ones on the right are the 007s. As you can see ,they have frog mouth pockets with a rounded edge, flap back pockets, and daks adjusters instead of belt loops.

test
Nik’s samples

Yeah, these look really nice. Are you looking for distributors in the UK and mainland Europe to spare buyers unreasonable shipping and customs charges?

That would be ideal, and I’m open to working with anyone who wants to help rep the brand and get it in stores. Though right now we are a very small outfit and can only produce modest quantities for the store I currently work for, Bobby From Boston.

I expect the overall price will be pretty steep, though?

I’m aiming for the $175 to $225 range. It depends a lot on the cost of the fabric. Custom orders may be more expensive due to the factories’ sample pricing.

This is the cost of Made In USA. Ideally, I’d like to beat the prices of other companies. For example, our shirts are made by the same factory that makes Thom Browne, yet we sell ours for a third of the price and offer a great deal of customer service. JPress also has shirts made in the same factory, though I’m not sure if they offer a satisfaction guarantee.

So when do you expect them to hit the market?

I’m hoping to have a few options available within six months to a year. It would be sooner, but I’m doing this all out-of-pocket from what I make at my other jobs, and I need to order enough pairs to meet the factory’s minimum. I have to find a balance between feeding myself and feeding the business.

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