The Naked Truth

The Rake‘s resident Cad-at-Large proclaims the merits of nudism. Be gone, prudes and brutes – even Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt were enlightened on this one.

Naturism, naturalism or just plain nudism - call it what you will, but with summer here, de Montague feels an overwhelming sense of well-being as his unfeasibly handsome gaze lingers over the heroic silhouette of his favourite sculpture, the l'Éphèbe d'Agde or Youth of Agde. A bronze statue in the Hellenistic style dating to the second century BC, l'Éphèbe d'Agde was discovered in 1964, half-submerged in the muddy bed of the river Hérault, on the southeastern coast of France. Standing at just 1.33m, it depicts a young, clean-shaven nobleman at the height of his sensual beauty, and is believed to have been created by a disciple of the master sculptor Lysippos.

Once residing in the storage rooms of the Louvre, this paean to the splendour of male virility is now the crowning glory of the Agde Museum in Cap d'Agde, a tranquil Mediterranean resort town in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Cap d'Agde is also famous for being a naturist paradise: during the summer months, it receives in excess of 40,000 visitors and is the site of de Montague's annual pilgrimage. The reason that de Montague feels so overcome by the sensory delight induced by the warm summer breeze caressing his bare, shaven loins is that he - like the youth depicted in that iconic bronze statue - is as naked as a jaybird.

That's right, de Montague is naked. Totally nude. Bare- assed naked in public - and proud of it. You see, if he'd been around at the turn of the 19th century, de Montague would have been an honourary member of the earliest naturist club known to have existed - the short-lived Fellowship of the Naked Trust, which was established during the British Raj by Charles Edward Gordon Crawford, a District and Sessions Judge for the Bombay Civil Service. Other, more famous fans of naturism include John Vernou 'Black Jack' Bouvier III, the father of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill, who achieved his signature copper-hued suntan by sunbathing nude on the rooftop of his Park Avenue apartment; and Dame Helen Mirren, who once said, 'I do believe in naturism and am my happiest on a nude beach with people of all ages and races.'

Today, numerous associations like British Naturism champion the glory of nudity, both private and public, and espouse a return to our pure, essential, primal selves by discarding our clothes - and with it, the oppressive concept of original sin. By being unencumbered by clothing, we reconnect with a state of pre-Judeo/Christian guilt, one of utter innocence and joyful embracement in the irrefutable beauty of the naked human form. The words of the poet and naturist Walt Whitman are more relevant than ever: 'Never before did I get so close to Nature; never before did she come so close to me... Nature was naked, and I was also... Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! - ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness then indecent?

No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability, that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear, but are themselves indecent.'

For many years, Cap d'Agde has been the critical epicentre of naturist expressionism. The tradition of social nudity started after World War II, when the Oltra brothers, who cultivated olives just beyond the sand dunes adjoining the 2km-long beach, noticed an increasing numbers of campers venturing to their lands to sunbathe in the nude. Rather than chasing them off, the brothers welcomed them, even creating the Oltra Club, a caravan and camping spot that quickly gained in popularity throughout the '50s and 'free love' '60s with young Dutch and German nudists. In the early '70s, President Georges Pompidou's redevelopment plans for the coastline of the Languedoc-Roussillon region excluded any plans for nude beaches. However, at the urging of René Oltra, he relented and eventually allowed the Oltras to not only keep their nude beaches, but to also lay the foundations of what would eventually become the world-famous 'Naked City'.

So, what exactly is the attraction of spending your day completely naked in the company of other naked people, and in the glory of nature? When you discard your clothing, you simultaneously shed your irrational worries; you jettison the unremitting stresses related to your daily occupation. In our modern world of over-urbanisation, swelling population densities and constant sensory overload - the worst of which is a relentless assault by beeping, shrilling electronic devices - we need a radical solution. We need to find peace, and the first step towards this is stripping down to our barest selves.

We need to get naked - right now.

But lest de Montague comes across as a sandal-wearing, quinoa-eating socialist nutball whacked out of his gourd on mescaline at the Burning Man festival, let him elaborate on the philosophy of the erstwhile Fellowship of the Naked Trust. The members are certainly not disciples of the oft-quoted naturist author Adolf Koch, who saw nudism as a way to free the proletariat from 'authority-fixated conditioning' and material trappings of bourgeois society. De Montague is all about the material trappings of elitism, which is why - even when he is strolling down the boulevards of Cap d'Agde, as the French say, magnificently à poil - he is wearing a £2,500 Bates Superfino panama hat, hand-woven in Ecuador from straw so fine it feels like Madame de Pompadour's silk underpants. On his wrist is a yellow-gold A-Series Royal Oak, double-signed by Audemars Piguet and Bulgari, that had once been gifted to Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez from the Shah of Iran (when Pérez was indicted for embezzlement and was desperate to pay his legal bills, de Montague got this off him for a song).


Warren de Montague


October 2015


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