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About Jean-Pierre BAL

restorer-conservator, designer-malletier, teacher-coach

(en français)






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, occasionally blending them with the art-painting techniques he masters since the 1990s. "HERITAGE x [R]EVOLUTION" that's his motto, shared with his Ecole PARÉ. 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. A portion of the income from those master craftsman activities was allocated to the preservation of the historical heritage (Belmal Archives) of the BelMal museum collection; since 2018 to his Ecole des Malletiers Gilbert & Paré students in scholarships. 


He has a knack for 20th century 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  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 "Malles De Voyage" showcase in Belgium.


The malletier profession is the third one in Jean-Pierre's career. The first one as an executive of business corporations. He then evolved into higher education and the domain of leadership development, having trained and coached during two decades leaders and students, of 70 nationalities, in his leadership school. (website).  


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


Jean-Pierre heads BELMAL and associated units' developmental phase. In October 2021 he launched the flagship PARÉ malletier school in France. Previously, 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, his Belgian educational platform for artisan malletier craftsmanship. 




The showcasing of Jean-Pierre's malletier work really took off in 2009, a year during which the DELVAUX House of Belgium entrusted him with restoration or conservation of travelling trunks that are part of the House's own trunk-making heritage. He 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'oeuvre de maîtrise, restauration et préservation").  [1]  footnotes, see at the bottom of the page.


The Belgian "LaUne" television channel made atelier recordings in 2009 as well. 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 a number of trunks from 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] leading 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] 


During the year 2012 there was 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]   


At times Jean-Pierre is active in photography too (aka Doublanse). His "M+M" photos, "Modèles-et-Malle" launched in 2013 have been very successful since (2013-2020, website)


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. In 2014 he created the "FVE" recipe, a special balm with an astonishing result, for reviving the colours of the monogram woven canvas on antique Louis Vuitton trunks. During the same year while on visit at BELMAL, a renowned author-journalist autographed a book from the Belmal library, writing about Jean-Pierre: "Maître ès Malles et Aventures de l'Art du Voyage Belge..."(10) The year 2015 marked the start of a new phase. In all, small is beautiful and bespoke -or shall we say word of mouth- were and still are the main sources of reference for BelMal's master-artisan. He also lent his luggage collection items fro the A Royal Night movie. [11]   


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 case, say prestige trunk, for the Trophy of the 24 Hours of Spa Francorchamps GT car race.


In 2019 he demonstrated his know-how in the restauration of automobile trunks: a car trunk made by the former maison Coessens of Brussels, designed for a Mercedes of the 1930s, owned by a Belgian VIP. The restoration process included the renovation of lacquered aluminum sheets curved on a wooden frame. It was the first trunk to undergo restoration in the then brand-new BELMAL atelier on the Ecole des Malletiers campus (12)



A year later he showed his mastery in a third field, a prowess in the domain that bridges classical arts with art-of-craft : the "Parva Domus 2.0" cube trunk, tribute to French-American artist Marcel Duchamp (13). A work commissioned by a VIP client (press clip in French), as well as a second trunk for the same. Both are "carte blanche" creations; the latter case for the classy transport of premium champagne and precious wines (other press clip).


In recent years Jean-Pierre showcased on several occasions the extra-ordinary "Malle des Vainqueurs" (the winner's trunk), a luxury case containing a jeroboam champagne bottle and six glasses, with a small door inspired from an antique car. The bespoke item was designed and handmade by him, in collaboration with a student from the Ecole des Malletiers. The première took place at Lake Como; a photo reporting for the Ecole Jean PARÉ malletier school pre-announcing the famous Concorso d'Eleganza 2021 at Villa d'Este, and Villa Erba (backstage footage clip, and ad photos)


In the second half of 2023 Jean-Pierre will be lifting the veil on how in the coming years his "Heritage x [R]evolution" motto will reach new heights still... 


Follow some of his work on instagram: @doublanse

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Belgian LaUne TV recordings took place in 2009 and 2022 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 held 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 Valorization 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) Transl. "Master of malletier art and adventures of Belgian Art of Travel" by Paul Gérard Pasols (author of Louis Vuitton, the Birth of Modern Luxury), visit of 9 April 2014 at Deux-Rys. (11) Belmal collection luggage props seen in "A Royal Night Out" with Sarah Gadon. (12) The successor of the Belmal Conservatory is the Ecole des Malletiers Nicolas Gilbert of Belgium and Ecole Jean PARÉ school of France. (13) The Parva Domus name is incidentally the same as the name of the House on the Ecole des Malletiers campus. (14) Certified artisan SPF Belgian Federal Public Service. (15) Active member of the Belgian Guild of Heritage Artisans UAP (16) Director and teacher of the France-based higher education institutions INSIL & PARÉ



© copyright 2023, 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: 2023-02-07