As the year turned the sad news came from Chatou, northern France that Christiane LeCocq had passed away at the age of 103. Together with her late husband Albert, Christiane was instrumental in laying the foundations for much of post-war naturism.
Born in Tourcoing on 6th April 1911, according the obituary published in The Telegraph, at the age of 22 Christiane was invited to Club Gymnique du Nord, a sports club near Lille, only to discover that all the members played in the nude. There, she met Albert LeCocq, who she married in 1933 and for some years the couple kept their naturist activities secret, stripping off under the cliffs near Rouen at high tide, Christiane is quoted as recalling. For the LeCocq’s however, naturism wasn’t just a bit of sunbathing in the nude but a way of life and they would promote social nudity – or naturism – as something that offered anyone participating both health and social benefits.
In a flurry of activity between 1945 and 1953 they began to lay the foundations for post-war French naturism and not content with that, for international naturism too. The LeCocqs opened Club de Soliel, Carrères-sur-Seine, dedicating it to family and social naturism in 1945. Then in 1949, they published the first naturist magazine in France, La Vie au Soliel (Life in the Sun), which is still being published today and arguably one of the most influential magazines dedicated to the lifestyle.
In 1950 came two innovations by the LeCocqs. First they founded the Federation Francaise de Naturisme (FFN) and not prepared to leave it at that, they then opened the world’s first holiday resort for naturists, Centre Helio-Marin (Centre of Sun and Sea) at Montalivet. Despite starting off as a makeshift camp, CHM Montalivet now attracts some 20,000 visitors per year, initiating an industry now thought to be worth €250 million to the French economy.
Armand Jamier, the current FFN president, told Le Monde that: ‘If France is today the world’s first naturist destination, with 3.5 million practitioners, more than 1.5 million French, [then Christiane LeCocq] cannot deny that it is thanks to her.’ FFN Vice-President, Yves Leclerc, added they: ‘sensed naturism could become a tourist product like any other.’
The LeCocqs then took a couple of years off, but in 1953 they were involved in the foundation of the International Naturist Federation when a ‘world congress’ was held at CHM Montalivet that year. According the INF website, this was actually the third such congress, the first being held in 1951 at the North Kent Club, England with an international conference of naturist organisations held at the Cora Hotel, London. In 1952, the second world congress was held in Switzerland. There it was agreed that a more formal arrangement was needed and the 16 national organisations attending appointed representatives from France (Albert LeCocq), the UK (Dorothy Thornton) and Germany (Erhard Wachtler) to create a set of rules, to be adopted the following year. In 2013, the INF celebrated its 60th year at, appropriately, CHM Montalivet.
Following Albert LeCocq’s death in 1969, Christiane continued to promote naturism and regularly attended the FFN general assembly as honorary president, and it is said she enjoyed the lifestyle beyond her 100th birthday. The Telegraph reported however, that Christiane felt naturism had lost some of the idealism of its founders. ‘Initially,’ she was quoted as saying. ‘We wanted to live in harmony with nature, to open ourselves to others, to pay attention to our diet,’ but with the development of naturism as mass tourism that spirit had largely gone.
Christiane LeCocq died on 24th December 2014.