JM malles, trunk maker -


Self-taught and talented, Jean-Marc took advantage of the health crisis to officially get started into the manufacture of bespoke trunks and start a second professional life. Combining traditional know-how and innovation, he designs his bespoke boxes without being a prisoner of the certainties that a professional with a more traditional background might have.

AM: Can you briefly introduce yourself?
JM: I am passionate, self-taught, hard-working. I like materials and traditions, but also innovation. Therefore I like to shake up working methods and I try to surprise with my achievements.
What made you want to make leather goods  and to set up on your own?
I have always been fascinated by trunks (the “rigid” leather goods as it is called); The object itself, what emotion it gives off in a room and what attraction it arouses. Several years ago, I wanted to buy a trunk, with a very particular design, for a purely functional need. It was at this moment that I truly began and decided to make it rather than buy it. I think the urge had been there for a long time and it just needed a trigger. It was the pandemic that was an “opportunity” to start my own business. Until then, I made trunks alongside a more “traditional” job. I had previously been encouraged to do so on several occasions by my relatives without giving concrete expression to it with justifications that were not always objective.
What is your background/training in leather goods?
I am a pure autodidact. I acquired the necessary experience to make trunks thanks to an apprenticeship based on the observation of the know-how and the trunks of the greatest trunk makers. It wasn't always easy at first, but it allowed me to never put myself under any constraint linked to “traditional” techniques or practices. Although I have great respect for them and use many of them. Thus, I “dared” to make certain atypical trunks or boxes that would never have seen the light of day if I had followed “the rules”. I remember a leatherworker who told me when talking about one of my projects “it will never last. We have to do otherwise”. I had doubts about my abilities to complete de project , but I followed my first idea and it worked out pretty well. The "Grand Cru" trunk-box was born with its original handles never seen in the trunk-making world!
Trunk-box Grand Cru by JM malles
Tell us more about your workshop: when did you open it, where is it located? How is it organized?
My workshop is located in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. It is small, but functional. Its organization is square with my location in the center. In front of me there is my work table, on my right the leathers and the jewelry, behind me all my tools, the glue and the dyes and on my left the necessary for the carpentry. So I can pivot to access everything quickly. Of course, a space with a large cutting table allows me to lay out whole skins and another to work on the largest joinery pieces. 
JM Malles | Making of a trunk
How do you work? ( All hand/machine and hand etc. )
I work entirely by hand. No imposing machine is present in the workshop. For the cutting of the poplar, it is made in a carpentry then assembled by me in the workshop. When I need to split skins or trim them, I call on one of the few trimming workshops left in Paris.
JM Malles | Desgin of a trunk
What type of product do you manufacture the most? Your favorite materials?
Each product is made to measure after having validated a drawing/sketch with the customer. So there is not really a product that I make the most. The only exception is the "Grand Cru" box which has been made several times in different leathers but without any other modification. All other products are unique.My two favorite leathers are lambskin for the exterior sheathing of boxes/cases and suede goatskin for the interior. However, for trunks, these two leathers are too fragile and the skins too small to be used. I then use cowhide leather for the exterior and suede calfskin for the interiors. The interior can also be made of suede or velvet. Regarding the carpentry part, it is necessarily poplar. It is the wood of choice for trunks because it is very light. The jewelry is solid brass, nickel or palladium. I have a slight preference for brass. The edges (also called lozine) are systematically made of leather and fixed with lozine nails. Sometimes I sew them, but they are most often made without, just with a folded edge.
How did you become known to current customers and how do you keep the constant influx of new potential customers? What is your sales network?
I made myself known via the Internet, my website and Instagram @jmtrunks . The word of mouth is also the main "vector". My clients are my best representatives and bring me other clients. I don't have a store or a showroom at the moment. However, some of my trunks are somehow on display. This is the case, for example, of the Malle-dégustation (wine tasting trunk), produced for Château Meyre in the Médoc (near Bordeaux). It thrones in the entrance of the château which is a hotel and a place of tasting.
Wine Degustation Trunk for Château Meyre in Médoc by JM Malles
What is the most ambitious project you have worked on? What were the particular difficulties and possibly the solutions that made it possible?
There are three completely different projects that have so far been ambitious or “challenging”. The first is the creation of the wine tasting trunk for Château du Médoc Meyre (mentioned above). The main difficulty was the size of the trunk (74x108x74 cm) and therefore its weight (about 50kg). When you work alone, it becomes a real challenge to manipulate such large pieces.
The second project is the "Malle-Lumière".
Malle lumière made JM malles

The difficulty was to get the electric cables to pass and to mount them, knowing that they had to be mounted once the structure was completed. The chosen solution was to laser cut grooves for the passage of the cables in the thickness of the barrel. The third project is the One-dollar case. The client's goal was to showcase two collectible $1 coins

JM Malles trunk-case for a one dollar collectible coin
I wanted to bring something other than a traditional tray or a plexiglass support in which the piece “snaps”. So I imagined a support in the form of an arc that would support the piece without hiding the slightest part of it and without going all the way around it, so that it would be placed delicately and almost in suspension.
The drawing was easy to achieve, on the other hand, the sheathing and the maintenance of the support on the case, much less.
What are your upcoming projects in the near future? (Opening of a new place of sale or workshop, machine purchase, development of a range of products, etc.)
Pursue the development of my three product lines:
  • Trunks and boxes for fine wines and spirits
  • Trunk objects for felids
  • Miscellaneous and decorative trunks and cases.
To that, I would like quite quickly to acquire a skiving machine and open a showroom.
What type of product or manufacturing step do you particularly like?
The different stages of designing a trunk are fun. It is difficult to “extract” one in particular. However, the installation of the hardware is "nice" because it is the final step of the exterior. You know that your trunk will “finally” see the light of day. In addition, it immediately takes on another aesthetic aspect, since it is adorned with its ornaments. Sheathing is surely what gives me the most pleasure. You have a real relationship with the material, the leather, and this is the stage that gives you the most opportunity to caress and feel the material. Even if it has a repetitive and sometimes long side, the lozinage is pleasant by the "music" and the "rhythm" provided by the hammer to drive the nails every 15mm. On some trunks, there can be up to more than 1000.
What type of product that you have never had the opportunity to make (due to lack of time, for example) and that you would like to design?
An innovative watch trunk that comes out of the classic existing boxes/trunks with rotation systems and trays.
Do you have a favorite tool? Why this one? Does it have a particular history and/or is it simply essential and/or very practical?
My favorite tool is the bone folder. It is essential for sheathing the leather and for a particular feel because it is systematically associated with the feel of the leather. I have several, but I always use the same one out of superstition: My first slightly curved white bone slicker.
Jean-Marc working with his leather tools
Which leather goods technique/production step is the most complex for you to master? Why?
This is a step specific to the trunk maker and rigid leather goods: cold riveting and stapling of jewelry nails. The operation is sometimes difficult to perform, especially on small objects because handling is less easy and this can damage the object by scratching the leather or the hardware itself. In addition, if the riveting or stapling is not well done, this may have an impact on the interior sheathing of the trunk, case or box.
What is the advice you could give to new generations who would like to embark on the adventure as you did?
Dare and stay humble. It sounds a bit “basic” and obvious, but it's sincere. Learn by listening, watching others and performing your own experiences. Feel free to ask for advice, but always follow your instincts. This is what will create your style and your uniqueness. You will make mistakes, some achievements will not live up to your expectations, but that's okay. Be humble. The "bigger" ones are always learning and also making mistakes.

Website and Instagram @jmtrunks 

variety of works made by JM malles, a violin case, a glasses cases and a more traditional trunk
variety of works made by JM malles, a violin case, a glasses cases and a more traditional trunk

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