Every week, I preface this column by saying that I’m only writing about the extraordinary costumes that Kasia Wailicka Maimone designs for Carrie Coon as Bertha Russell, but since The Opera Wars aren’t front-and-center in “Warning Shots,” Bertha only appears in a handful of scenes, and she’s re-wearing dresses I’ve already written about at some length.
All of which is to say: This week, we’re pivoting to Cynthia Nixon’s character, Ada Brook Forte! Her storyline here is so lovely and so heartbreaking, and Ada’s dresses are first-rate. What does a Manhattan newlywed reverend’s wife in later middle age wear upon returning from her honeymoon at Niagara Falls? How do her costumes inform Nixon’s performance (deeper and more subtle than last season)? Let’s discuss.
Gown Of The Week goes to At Home With Mrs. Forte. Ada’s second gown of the episode accompanies a tasty, loving breakfast at home with Luke (whose formal title, The Reverend Mr. Forte, is one of my favorite little honorifics in English). We often see Ada in matte fabrics, so the lush silk satins of this dress stand out. The main color is a deep shade of turquoise, with an all-over print of roses. It’s so pretty and joyful, but in a restrained way, which is also a good description of Ada herself these days.
Gown Of The Week: At Home With Mrs. Forte
The turquoise-and-roses print creates the entire outer layer of the dress, from shoulder to cuffs and waist to hem. The bustle on this gown looks a bit larger than the one she wore to call on Agnes (more on that in a moment). I need to improve my bustle literacy because descriptors like “large,” “small,” and “billowy” aren’t cutting it, and I want to better understand what each one signifies. Recommendations for bustle primers are welcome!
The bodice is constructed in two contrasting shades: a very pale, creamy yellow for the upper half, featuring a fairly deep scoop neckline and fabric-covered buttons. The lower half of the bodice matches one of the deeper-pink shades on the rose pattern and is shirred, which I don’t recall having seen before this season.
The dress really suits the mood. Like Bertha’s summery white gowns on Newport, Mrs. Forte At Home looks relatively easy to wear, which is perfect for a post-honeymoon breakfast between two people who are so head-over-heels for each other and really appreciate and value the whole experience. Their chemistry is warm and believable, and I like that they don’t just admire each other – there’s a little frisson there, too. Ada just looks so pretty, and they both look absolutely transported with happiness as they waltz around the living room to The Blue Danube, and a whole bunch of dust just flew in my eye. Love really is grand.
We have two honorable mentions for this episode, the first being Bad News. That sounds terrible, and the news of Luke’s metastatic cancer diagnosis is indeed very, very bad. At least the dress is very good? The palette for Bad News is several of the darker shades of orange – burnt sienna or umber for the main color and pumpkin for the accent fabric. This is the most ornate and visually adventurous of Ada’s dresses in “Warning Shots.”
The main fabric is a woven silk with lots of body. In a close-up, we can see a texture that looks like an allover pattern of tiny polka dots woven into the fabric, which gives it a bit of extra structural and visual emphasis. As is the case with the turquoise-and-roses fabric in Mrs. Forte At Home, this deep brown-orange fabric forms most of the dress, including the bustle and overskirt.
The contrast color harmonizes with the burnt umber; it’s got a pumpkin orange background and features Japonesque florals in orange, yellow, and green. This fabric is used sparingly but to good effect as flourishes at the cuffs and collar, framing the central panel of the bodice and flowing down to form the underskirt. I like the subtle heads-up to viewers that Bertha isn’t the only character to be incorporating current trends into her wardrobe (indeed, it seems like a subject she and Mrs. Van Rhijn could speak about with ease, as Agnes’s dress in an earlier scene incorporates a similar floral flourish at the bodice).
Mrs. Forte Comes To Call
This dress is the only one that doesn’t quite work for me. I’m not saying Bertha Russell’s ensembles are restrained or minimalist in any way, but there’s something oddly fussy about Mrs. Forte Comes To Call. It may be a reflection of Ada’s inner unsettled-ness as she and Luke pay their first visit to Agnes as husband and wife, or it may be that Kasia Wailicka Maimone is a very gifted artist who, like the rest of us, doesn’t do everything perfectly (or to my personal specifications) all the time, which is fair!
I think this dress suffers a little bit from the variable lighting conditions. We first see Mrs. Forte Comes To Call when Ada is outside, alighting from the carriage as she and Luke arrive at the Van Rhijn home. In the light outdoors, the main color looks like a deep, almost burgundy shade of rose, which could reflect the abundant love between Ada and Luke. Inside, though, the light makes it look like more of a terracotta, pinky-orange shade. The fabric is woven silk, and I’d call it shantung, but it doesn’t have that specific, slubbed texture. It does have a crisp, substantial look, though.
The secondary fabric is a gold silk satin brocade with ornate florals in shades of red and green. Like the main fabric, it looks different in the outside light, where it appears as a more peachy shade. This fabric is used more sparingly, on the bodice and in four panels as a partial overskirt. The skirt is only visible at the start of this scene, and there’s a fairly stiff breeze, which makes the panels flap a bit. That partial overskirt is then partially covered by a swoopily draped layer of the burgundy-or-terracotta main fabric, which includes several bows arranged vertically from the waist to the hem.
The top half of the dress almost looks like it could double as a rather whimsical jacket, or as a topper for an entirely different dress, which makes sense for Ada, who clearly has a personal style, but doesn’t prioritize being a fashion plate the way Bertha Russell does. Garments that can be even partially mixed and matched are practical, no matter how lavish they are. The bodice features a square-ish neckline, and the main fabric topper laces in the front with a (fussy, I’m sorry to say) bow right below the bust. Small circular, fabric-covered buttons march from the high collar to the waist, and her wrist-length sleeves end with a bit of lacy trim peeking out from the cuffs.
I do not look forward to crying my eyes out as this storyline unfolds, but at least I’ll have happy memories of Mrs. Forte At Home to comfort me.