Meet The Person #38: Tracey Panek 

Today episode #38 of the topic Meet the Person. This topic, Meet the Person, is about people with passion, an unique story, people in the (denim) industry. In Meet the Person I will give you an insight into their life; who are they, what are they doing, what makes them so special, where are they working on, and so on.

This new episode of Meet the Person is with Tracey Panek, historian at Levi Strauss & Co.


Tracey Panek

Tracey Panek

 What is your role at Levi Strauss: ,

I am the Levi Strauss & Co. Historian and Director of the Archives. I manage the day-to-day workings of the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives as a key corporate asset, answering historical questions, assisting designers, brand managers, executives and other employees whose work requires historical materials in the Archives.

How did you entered the denim industry:

I joined Levi Strauss & Co. in 2014.

Where are you the most proud of so far as it comes to your work:

I’m proud of lots of things at the Levi Strauss & Co. Archives ranging from acquiring garments like the New Nevada jeans to Albert Einstein’s Levi Strauss leather jacket; launching The Levi Strauss & Co. Virtual Vault Digital Archives and gathering a host of Levi’s stories in the process.

Tracey Panek

What’s the most rarest Levi’s item in the Levi Strauss Archive at the moment:

Anything dating to the 1800s ranks as the rarest. We made a new 1890s acquisition in 2020. I’ll be sharing details later in the year, but it involved a road trip and it is super cool!

What’s the oldest Levi’s item in the Levi Strauss Archive at the moment:

Our XX Waist Overall (1879) – it’s considered the oldest blue jeans in the world.

What’s your personal favorite item in the Levi Strauss Archive:

It’s always changing. There are so many stories connected with the Levi’s in our collection. My earliest favorite is Calico, a 501 that dates to 1890. One month after starting out at Levi Strauss & Co., I met Barbara Hunter Kepon, the woman who found the jeans at the Calico Mine in the Mojave Desert.

Where do you find most of the vintage Levi’s items:

I find things at a host of places ranging from online auction houses to thrift shops. I’m lucky to have a lot of friendly spotters who alert me to cool pieces that pop up.

Is there one particular Levi Strauss item and story in the archive from its previous owner which you can highlight:

I mentioned the Calico Jean from 1890. Barbara Hunter Kepon found them in the 1940s as a teenager when she was camping with friends near the historic Calico Mine. She found them among a pile in the mine, picking out the best of the bunch. She brought them home, patched them up and wore them to high school – two decades before teens (and women!) were wearing jeans regularly.

Sometime after wearing them, Barbara noticed the Two Horse patch print in the pocket bag with the text, “For over 17 years our celebrated XX Blue Denim Copper Riveted Overalls have been before the public, THIS IS A PAIR OF THEM!” She realized she had an early pair of Levi’s and wrote to the company in San Francisco, offering to donate them. As a thank you, we sent Barbara a brand new pair of 501 jeans.

Tracey Panek

Tracey Panek

Tracey Panek

Which item is there on your wishlist to include in the Levi Strauss Archives:

Get a hold of me ASAP if you can track down Marlon Brando’s 501 jeans from The Wild One.

What’s your favorite Levi’s style, and why:

Of course it’s the shrink-to-fit 501 – the jeans I wore in high school. Today, I also like pulling on a 517 bootcut.

What’s your favorite denim city:

San Francisco of course!

Who’s your favorite denim designer:

Melody Sabatasso aka Love, Melody. She started out in the late 1960s and repurposed Levi’s to outfit everyone from Tanya Tucker to actress Lauren Bacall. She still designs today.

What do you think it’s the best invention in the denim industry:

The original blue jean – the 501.

Who’s your denim hero & why:

My predecessor, Lynn Downey, Levi Strauss & Co.’s first historian amassed an amazing archives over almost 25 years. I’m delighted to be expanding and working with the materials she gathered.

What’s your favorite denim store:

Our company shop at Levi’s Plaza and the attached Tailor Shop there. I can always check out the latest Levi’s looks.

Tracey Panek

What are your ultimate denim accessories:

They aren’t exactly accessories, but I especially love two Levi’s vests that I own. One is a 1960s vintage vest with an American flag attached to the back and a Utah patch (my home state) on the front. The other is a Levi’s vest with my name embroidered in red.

What’s your favorite inspiration quote:

“Try doing something every day you don’t want to do.” It was something a Sunday School teacher told me when I was a teenager and I’ve never forgotten it.

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Written by Wouter Munnichs
I'm the founder of Long John. Next to running this daily magazine, I'm working as a freelance denim specialist for the industry. Titled as 'Denim Influencer 2020' by Rivet 50. Celebrated my 10th anniversary with Long John in 2021.