Pushing Your Buttons

The moment she first stepped into Playland Japan, the arcade nestled within the Japan Center in San Francisco, BFA fashion designer Bitao Zhu was reminded of her childhood. Growing up, all Zhu wanted to do was play arcade games, but in actuality, she was the girl watching from the sidelines. Her fascination for the games turned into a deep yearning to press the buttons, feel the excitement, and embody the characters within.

Today, Zhu has come to a new realization: “Even though we are adults now, we can still be kids.” Her senior thesis collection is the amalgamation of Japanese arcade literally stitched into playful garments. Images of bright, colorful buttons turned into base patterns, silhouettes of the machines took the form of structured jackets and her boxy shapes, organic circular patterns and pleated ruffles echo various aspects of the gaming consoles.

The collection is a collaborative effort with BFA textile designer Makayla Godden. Godden’s prints lend a playfulness to the line-up that feels highly original and a little unexpected; her patterns are all made by hand using pastels, markers, and acrylic paints, followed by a cut-out method to create a layered, almost 3D effect.

There’s a certain confidence you need to wear Zhu’s clothes, and the designer herself wanted to stress that they’re made for someone who knows exactly who they are, and for those who want to make a statement. Bright colors pop against shiny polyester and lycra materials, asymmetric silver holographic tops are paired with high-waisted pants, and a puff-sleeved blazer is layered over a dress with a deep U-shape plunging neckline. Zhu may not have been able to play those arcade games as a child, but she is certainly finding her own fun now as a designer.

Words: Dwaine Hill, BA Fashion Journalism

Edits: Josh Walker & Ellie Dietrich

Photography: Danielle Rueda

Model: Tiffany, STARS Management