Category Archives: Publicity

Netta, the Most Beautiful Girl in the World

Netta‘ by Octave Grillaert published by Le Réveil artistique, Brussels in 1931.

The Netta of this song is a former Miss Belgium who became the first Belgian Miss Universe in 1931. Miss Universe titles had been awarded since 1926 during the International Pageant of Pulchritude held in Galveston, Texas. The Great Depression put an end to this yearly frivolous fuss in the United States, only to surface until after WWII.

Second International Pageant of Pulchritude in Galveston, Texas, 1927

Annette (Netta) Duchâteau was a modern and daring girl who got herself a pilot license when she was only 19 years old. Even so, crossing the Atlantic in 1931 by boat to participate in the Pageant in Texas must have been quite an adventure for the young lady. The year before, Netta had been crowned Miss Belgium. Notable members of the 1930 Belgian jury were the Flemish writer Stijn Streuvels (Frank Lateur indeed) and the painter Albert Saverys.

Phtograph of Stijn Streuvels and Albert Saverys.
Miss Belgium jury members Stijn Streuvels and Albert Saverys, the two men in the middle of this drinking group (source:

Here we see a short celebration of Netta having won her title, on the tune of the Brabançonne.

Thanks to an interesting short documentary about the 1929 Austrian Miss Universe, we can visualise the circumstances to which the contestants had to adapt. Like all other contenders, Netta had to be chaperoned (in her case by her mother). She needed a medical certificate to ensure that she could endure standing still on a cart pushed around between the masses for hours, four days on end during the street parades. The candidates could not go out alone without written permission of the committee. They had to swear that they were not artists, did not indulge in drinking nor smoking. They were not allowed to use any kind of make-up. Moreover for Netta the alienation must have been particularly hard: she didn’t speak English.

After her victory, Netta turned down all American marriage proposals. She also refused offers to appear on stage or in commercials, and returned to her native Belgium. There she was welcomed like royalty and again received a lot of marriage proposals. Her success was enormous  compared to Anny Duny, our first Miss Belgium. She appeared in countless magazines and advertising campaigns before becoming a stage actress.

Netta Duchateau praising toothpaste and mouthwash in an advertisement for Bi-oxyne and Rubi-oxyne
Netta Duchateau praising toothpaste and mouthwash in an advertisement for Bi-oxyne and Rubi-oxyne.

Allegedly Netta inspired the American illustrator Lawrence Sterne Stevens when he created the emblem for Belga, a former Belgian cigarette brand that was launched in 1923. The brands name and national colours appealed to the patriotic feelings after the Great War. Sterne Stevens drew a typical modern girl, a flapper with bobbed hair and a cloche hat. In contrast to the earlier Belga Girl by Leo Marfurt, she looks more self-reliant. She is glamorous, accentuates her looks with make-up, and expresses a certain sensuality. And she smokes!

Left: Poster for Belga cigarettes by Leo Marfurt. Middle: Poster for Belga cigarettes by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. Right: Netta Duchateau

Even René Magritte created designs for the Belga cigarettes. He didn’t need a beauty queen for a model though, he had his beautiful wife Georgette. He painted her looking straight at the viewer, holding a cigarette before his familiar blue sky with white clouds. Although Magritte referred to his work in publicity as ‘idiotic work’, this design blurs the boundary between painting and advertising. The second advertising image for Belga cigarettes is signed Studio Dongo. This was a small advertising company he owned together with his brother Paul who was also a composer. Both Magritte’s projects for Belga were rejected.

magritte belga5
Left: Advertising project for Belga cigarettes by René Magritte. RIght: Poster design for Belga cigarettes by Studio Dongo.

Thanks to Netta’s victory in Galveston the next Miss Universe pageant was held in Spa, Belgium. It was won by a Turkish beauty. At the end of the video, we get a glimpse of Maurice de Waleffe, the omnipresent gentleman when beauty contests had to be organised. He is recognisable by his telltale moustache.

See You Later!

alligator sheetmusic copy
Beim Alligator in Wien‘ by Erich Bertel, s.d., unknown illustrator.

The girl on her fierce-looking alligator seems oblivious to her perilous ride. Her garter belt is peeking out, but she only cares for her new handbags. ‘Beim Alligator in Wien’ is a publicity song issued by the Viennese Alligator workshops and stores, selling (alligator) handbags.

Beim Alligator in Wien, label on back cover of sheet music
Detail from the back of the cover Beim Alligator in Wien

We checked the addresses of the old ‘Beim Alligator‘ stores in Vienna. To our pleasant surprise we discovered that one of the shops still exists.

alligator vienna
Alligator shop, Rotenturmstrasse 19, Vienna

The sheet music dates from the late 20s or early 30s, a period at which the illustrator might have read about The California Alligator Farm.

Farm.h5This was a strange amusement park founded in 1906 near Los Angeles. With over a thousand alligators on exhibition the farm offered weird attractions. One could watch the alligators being fed with live chickens…,

Chicken_Dinner_California_Alligator_Farm_Los_Angeles_California_13691-600x382or admire Okeechobee, a 500 (ahem!) year old senior reptile.

Okeechobee_500_Years_Old_California_Alligator_Farm_Los_Angeles_CalThe children could enjoy the pleasure of a carriage ride…,

Children Joy Ride at the California Alligator Farmor a bareback ride on an alligator. Rather unsafe for small children, I guess.

California Alligator Farm, Los Angeles, California, half-tone postcards with applied colour, ca. 1910s

The farm’s brochure boasted about its speciality: ‘Alligator Bags Ornamented with Genuine Alligator Heads and Claws’. A promotional photo shows a large alligator-skin bag on top of an incubator full of cute alligator babies. The caption reads: ‘From start to finish’. Gruesome!

An incubator ‘Made Especially for Hatching Alligator Eggs’. The caption on the photo reads ‘From start to finish, California Alligator Farm’. ca. 1910s.

Also sickening is the undercover documentary from the animal rights group PETA. Still today, alligators and crocodiles on farms in Texas and Africa are cruelly bred, skinned and slaughtered. It moved Jane Birkin to try to dissociate her name from the luxury ‘Birkin crocodile handbag‘ made by Hermès.

Well, I’m relieved that I never owned a ‘gator bag’. Probably couldn’t afford it either…

See you later.

Hop, Skip and Jump

meco partituur copy
Meco Fox-trot‘ by Jan von Lindern, published by Rademaker’s in 1923.

This cover shows an elegant man and his equally refined lady friend teasing each other with a Meco milk chocolate bar. They seem eager to take a bite. The fox-trot was ordered by the chocolate factory Rademaker’s as publicity. The chocolate bar with a light blue wrapper was sold in tins. The brand name Meco was designed in a typical De Stijl yellow typeface: the M has rectangular corners and is rotated ninety degrees to form an E.

Tin for Meco chocolate bars (1925- 1935)

Meco milk chocolate bars were made by Rademaker’s Royal Cacao and Chocolate Factory in The Hague, Netherlands. On the backside of the sheet music cover we are presented with publicity for their other specialities: Haga vanilla chocolate, Fenix Cacao and their most important sweet Haagse Hopjes.

achterkant meco034 copy
Left, backside of the cover with publicity for Rademaker’s products. Right, a tin of Fenix cocoa.

Haags-hopje-470x295Hopjes are coffee-flavoured candies. They are as Dutch as tulips and were named after baron Hendrik Hop (1723-1808) who let inadvertently simmer a mixture of coffee, cream and sugar too long on his stove until it caramelised. Baron Hop liked this sweet so much that he ordered his baker Theodorus van Haaren to recreate these lumps of coffee. Baron Hop was very enthusiastic and offered the sweets to all his classy and noble guests. The lumps of coffee  were soon exported as a luxury product all over Europe. First they were sold as Baron Hop’s bonbons.

hopjes blikFrom 1880 on they were called Haagse Hopjes. The hopjes became so popular that a real hopjes war started as many brands claimed to be the producer of the original hopje. Rademaker’s was but one of them, although they definitely were the first to wrap the sweets into an individual paper.

familie raThe Rademaker family, in the middle Johannes Rademaker (1843-1916) founder of the Rademaker's Company - photo Haagse Beeldbank, about 1900demaker
The Rademaker family, in the middle Johannes Rademaker (1843-1916) founder of the Rademaker’s Company – around 1900 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).
hopjes strand
Although the hopjes were very popular, the hopjes stall at the beach in Scheveningen seems not very successful. The people on the beach definitely prefer a lemonade or other sweets. 1905 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).
fabrik rademaker 2
Rademaker’s factory, 1891 (psource: Haagse Beeldbank).

The first Rademaker’s factory in The Hague burned down in 1901 and a new one was built elsewhere in the city with a remarkable oriental-looking front.

rademakers fabriek ossters
Rademaker’s factory, about 1910 (source: Haagse Beeldbank).

At the end of the 20s the factory proved too small and again a new one was built, this time as a modernist structure.

rademaker fabriek 3
Rademaker’s factory, about 1930 (photo Haagse Beeldbank).

An early commercial dating back to 1925 shows us the production process of the Meco chocolate bars and of the Haagse hopjes.

Today the Haagse Hopjes aren’t Dutch anymore. They are owned by a Swedish firm and produced in Italy. In Belgium we are still producing a coffee-flavoured sweet in a beautiful wrapper, the Caramella Mokatine. It is made from the original 1925 recipe by Confiserie Roodthooft in Antwerp.

mokatine enkelAs far as we know Roodthooft did not order any sheet music but we can imagine how the cover would look…

mokatine cover
Left, ‘Le Caid‘, foxtrot by Raoul Moretti, illustrated by de Valerio, published by Salabert in 1923. Right, ‘Beduinens Karlekssang‘, foxtrot by Ejnar Westling illustrated by Tiberg, published by Elkan & Schildknecht in 1925.