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About Jean-Pierre BAL

restorer-conservator, designer-malletier, teacher-coach

(en français  <->  Nederlands)




The career of Jean-Pierre Bal, the keynote trunkmaker - malletier - at BELMAL, is multidimensional. Classical, surrealistic, and unconventional styles form a helix or inextricable interweaving of manual, artistic, and intellectual work. That alloy of creativity is to some extent rooted in his upbringing and early life environment. In the 1950s his mother studied at the illustrious Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp. A few years later she won the first prize in an ELLE Magazine stylisme contest. As Jean-Pierre recalls the early 60s, his childhood: "I loved those pieces of cloth, silk, draperies, and all sorts of textiles that she transformed into -fashion-. Following the family tradition his father taught him the use of wood and metalworking tools, and at an early age. "One day, when I was about 5 years old, I had dared carving shapes into a concrete floor, but with a chisel for woodworking. My dad then started to teach me which tool matches which material and how to use the tools properly. Some years later, as she couldn't find any space for it at her house, my grandmother brought an old LV trunk. I took care of it since but without realizing the role it would come to play in my future life, three decades later that is". 


Many years later Jean-Pierre learned, on his own, the classical methods in trunk-making, and occasionally blends them with art-painting techniques which he masters since the 1990s. Having become an expert Jean-Pierre restores vintage and antique trunks of the BelMal Collection as well as for third parties. He also designs and makes his exclusive artisan trunks, and some other trunk-shaped artworks. The income from those master craftsman activities was allocated to the preservation of the historical heritage (Belmal Archives) of the BelMal museum collection, and since 2018 to his Ecole des Malletiers and students. 


He has a knack for the 20th century's grands couturiers, Yves Saint Laurent and Cristobal Balenciaga in particular. (homage painting > website). JP also assists talented individuals in the fashion professions, through personal coaching, and occasionally accepts internships ("I was already in my forties when my art-and-fashion talents started to -really- emerge. So in that field I'm a bit of a late bloomer, but that has advantages too"). Before entering the realm of restoring antique travel equipment he had ventured in the visual arts, as a hobby, yet an award-winning pastels painter. Then in photography : his "M+M" sessions, that stand for Modèles-et-Malles, a bifocal models+trunks theme, started in 2013.  He is since May 2018 also the main host at the school's new "Malles De Voyage" showcase, at Durbuy city.


The malletier profession is the third one in Jean-Pierre's career. In the first one he was an executive in business corporations. He then evolved into higher education and the domain of leadership development, having trained and coached leaders and students during two decades in his own leadership school. (website).   


The growth of Belmal, and the rise of the Ecole des Malletiers


Jean-Pierre heads BELMAL's latest developmental phase. On 1 January 2018, coinciding with the launch of the European Year for Cultural Heritage, he hoisted the sails of the Ecole des Malletiers Nicolas Gilbert and Jean Paré, his flagship educational platforms for the artisan malletier craftsmanship. 


It was in 2009 that the famous DELVAUX House of Belgium contacted JP Bal for the restoration or conservation of travelling trunks that are part of the House's own trunk-making heritage. Jean-Pierre also contributed to the history-part, and with books lent by the BelMal Library for the "Delvaux 180 Years of Belgian Luxury" exhibition at the Fashion Museum (MoMu) of Antwerp, Belgium. Some years later he restored another set of trunks and travel equipment of the House. Twenty-seven objects in total, which together form Jean-Pierre's masterwork in the field of restoration and conservation. ("chef d'oevre de maîtrise, restauration et préservation").  [1]  footnotes, see at the bottom of the page.


The Belgian "LaUne" television channel also made atelier recordings in 2009. The "C'est du belge" ("it's Belgian") TV programme focused on the official opening of the brand new international railway station of Liège Guillemins, featuring a ten minutes' special about the craftsmanship of the restorer, and some of the trunks of the BelMal collection. [2]


The year 2010 was marked by the success of the "Histoire et passion" short-film by Marcel Hellebosch. Made in the first half of 2009, and on the moviemaker's own initiative, the film shows the craftsmanship of the restorer, and history aspects about antique and vintage travel trunks. The movie won three major prizes at contests in Belgium and France [3], It also led to the identification by the National Library of France (BnF); since 2011 Jean-Pierre is listed by name and profession in the BnF authority record of persons catalogue [4] 


The start of the year 2012 was marked by the coincidental publications in two upper-class lifestyle magazines: "Un artisan hors norme" (transl. a craftsman beyond boundaries) [5]  and "Restauratie vergt reflectie" (restoration requires reflection) [6]  In 2013 to 2015, articles appeared in American, Qatari, and Polish magazines, about the restoration or manufacture of new trunks at BelMal malletier atelier [7] [8] [9] 


Alongside the usual restoration work, Jean-Pierre's creativity resulted in ideas and sketches of more than 80 new trunks and their finishes, and a few prototypes. The year 2015 marked the start of a new phase, with for instance the discrete release of a few of the Belmal Photo Sessions. In all, small is beautiful and bespoke -or shall we say word of mouth- continue to be the main sources of reference for BelMal's master-artisan. And in supplying props for movies as well. [10]   


In 2016 he produced a second chef d'oevre de maîtrise, in the field of the manufacture of new trunks this time: the bespoke luxury casing trunk for the Trophy of the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps car race.


In 2020, he demonstrated a third mastery, in the very rare field of classical arts-and-craftsmanship combined: the "Parva Domus" trunk homage to Marcel Duchamps, a masterwork made on special commission order for a VIP client (press clip in French). 


 > contact <


Belgian LaUne TV recordings took place in  2009 in the restorer's atelier


video-clips :   television (excerpts)  |  renovation (slideshow)    short-movie (excerpts)



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Footnotes: (1)  Interviews with Hettie Judah, for the Delvaux 180 Years Exhibition hald at the MoMu Fashion Museum in Antwerp (Belgium) from 17 Sept. 2009 to 21 Feb. 2010. (2) The "C'est du belge" TV broadcast of 18 September 2009, on the La Une (RTBF) Belgian TV channel. (3) The Grand Prize for the Originality of the Subject (FCVFB, Belgium, 2010). The Special Grand Prize for the Valorisation of Societal Heritage (Amiens, France, 2010). The Prize of the Public (Cognin, France, 2010). (4) International Notice VIAF 173384900 National Library of France Bibliothèque nationale de France BnF, authority record of person catalogue: Bal Jean-Pierre, travel-trunks restorer (restaurateur de malles) BnF n° FRBNF16523857 (2011) IdRef Higher education reference 166945064  ISNI-OCLC International Standard Name Identifier ISO 27729 (5) in L'Evénement (magazine, in French), n° 407, winter 2011-2012, pages 84 and 85. (6) in Audi Magazine, n° 01/2012, Belgian edition (bilingual, in French and Dutch separately), pages 62 to 65. (7) in Centurion Magazine online (American Express, USA), On refurbished vintage luxury luggage (Trunks on show), rel. 24 Aug. 2012(8) BelMal museum, cited in "The bag from Belgium" about Delvaux, in GLAM fashion magazine (Qatar), December 2013. (9) WERANDA Magazine (Poland), n° 06/2015, p.180-183. (10) Belmal collection luggage props seen in "A Royal Night Out" with Sarah Gadon. (11) The successor of the Belmal Conservatory is the Ecole des Malletiers of Belgium and Jean Paré school project of France



© copyright 2020, OGISPES o.b.o. BELMAL Museum, Trunks Restoration, Malletier, and Ecole des Malletiers Nicolas Gilbert - Jean Paré, prev. ITES Institute for Travel  Equipment and Luggage History Studies. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this website is prohibited  | Page updated: 2020-08-20