Why is the Princesses Universelle doll, born in the area of Charleroi, planning to settle in Kortrijk? This question was asked by many involved in the world of toys in 1932.

The EVF doll factory was established in Forchies-la-Marche, near Charleroi, by Ernest Villain in 1932. EVF stands for the initials of Ernest Villain from Forchies-la-Marche. The Villain firm existed since 1880, initially conceived as a wholesaler, then as a manufacturer of cardboard horses.

But unexpectedly for all competitors, Ernest Villain became "seduced" by doll making, and on March 31, 1932, he filed a patent in Charleroi. The entrepreneur began to produce jointed dolls made of pressed cardboard, exclusively in large sizes (from 60 to 80 cm), with lovely sleeping glass eyes and mohair or natural hair wigs.

There is an EVF marking on the back of the neck (a number corresponding to the size), but they are called Princesses Universelle dolls. His jointed dolls were largely inspired by the dolls of the largest Belgian brand of that time - Unica.


On the heads of the competitor dolls, the initial letters of their inventor are depicted, namely E.V.F. Ernest Villain. He takes responsibility for the description of the "indestructible" and declares a real war on the company Unica from Kortrijk.

Ernest Villain even goes so far as to open an office in Kortrijk, at Gulden Sporenlaan 14, not far from the Unica factory. So why is the Princesses Universelle doll, born in the Charleroi area, planning to settle in Kortrijk?

The answer is simple - just as McDonald's and Burger King fight for supremacy in the fast food industry, so 50 years before them, Ernest Villain and the Verhoye family fought for supremacy in the doll industry.

The competitor - the innovator acts very unpredictably, he hires an employee from Kortrijk, a certain Vanfleteren, who will bring the Verhoye family a lot of problems, but this is a separate story requiring a detailed analysis of two business strategies and advertising trends.

Nevertheless, let's return to the Princesse Universelle brand, which does not have the same machine setups as Unica and can mainly produce one mold - a jointed doll in different sizes, 56 and 75 cm, with an open mouth and sleepy eyes. These dolls are quite fragile, as they are made of "cardboard broth".

For the Unica brand, this competitive struggle became a breakthrough in mastering new technologies, namely, they focused on the production of bakelite, which made the doll heads truly unbreakable. The Princesse Universelle company also did not stand still and used the "phenomenon of a lifetime warranty" by offering doll repair, as well as dressing and wig replacement to its customers. Thus, establishing trusting relationships with customers and surrounding their product with the halo of exceptional quality (Ernest Villain didn't even realize that he was one of the first to use the now popular term "planned obsolescence", which, like the EVF brand, appeared in 1932).

Many collectors often say that EVF dolls are just copies of Unica dolls. Of course, it must be admitted that EVF dolls are largely inspired by the jointed dolls of the Unica company, and for the layman, they will be identical. In my opinion, there are many differences in the morphology and faces of the jointed dolls of these two brands.

These two companies were competitors and even sworn enemies; EVF went so far as to poach employees from its competitor and produce some dolls in Kortrijk, the stronghold of Unica, and based on their designs. But Unica is too important a rival, and World War II will be the final blow to Ernest Villain's business. In 1945, the EVF company made a last attempt before disappearing forever: they copied (this time, correctly) the famous Unica rattles. They are marked "PU Kortrijk".

The Unica brand lasted another 30 years and disappeared as a result of a fire. Dolls remain in private collections, archival memories remain, photographs, and enthusiasts like me - collecting stories about the brands of the bygone century.

Iryna Kotlyarevska, collector