In 1892, she took the act to Paris and started performing at the Folies Bergère, a music hall that mainly featured vaudeville acts. She became an instant sensation, revered for her mesmerizing choreography and groundbreaking lighting techniques. Within a year, she was billed as the headliner.
Fuller’s universal appeal owed itself in part to the rising popularity of Art Nouveau, which her performances so readily embodied. But she also seemed to have the unique ability to interest audiences from all walks of life. Although the Folies Bergère typically attracted working class patrons, in 1893, a journalist for L’Echo de Paris wrote: “One now sees black dress coats…carriages decorated with coats of arms; the aristocracy is lining up to applaud Loïe Fuller.”
During those early years in Paris, Toulouse-Lautrec produced a series of about 60 lithographs inspired by Fuller’s performance at the Folies Bergère. The young dancer also caught the eye of Roger Marx, an art critic whose praise further contributed to her success—and who introduced her to Gabrielle Bloch, a Jewish-French banking heiress who wore men’s suits and became Fuller’s lifelong live-in partner. “To be clear, Loie Fuller was not part of an early 20th century gay movement,” says Albright. “She was gay, and that was part of her identity, but it was more complicated than that. As a professional, she crossed over the feminized world of dancing on stage and into the masculinized world of being a manager, a producer, and a lighting designer.”
Fuller held over a dozen patents related to her costumes and innovations in stage lighting, including the use of glass plates, large lantern projectors, and colored gelatins. She was so interested in the science of lighting that when she read about the development of radium and its luminous properties in a newspaper, she befriended its discoverers, Pierre and Marie Curie, who had a home in Paris.