By People Staff
November 15, 1999 12:00 PM

SORRY, GAP. IT WASN’T YOUR vests that had passers by looking twice at your billboards. It was the guy in them. “People tell me I look like Johnny Depp,” says model Greg Payne, 22, who put his face above the fleece for the retailer’s autumn campaign. “That’s a wicked compliment.” With his raven hair, chestnut-colored eyes and sphinx-like gaze, the onetime London postal worker is getting used to such compliments—even though, he says, “I cringed every time I walked by those ads and saw my face staring back at me.”

The youngest of three sons born to a British government worker father of Anglo-Indian descent and a Burmese preschool teacher mum, Payne has also modeled for Fendi, Hermès and Versace. “His ethnicity is extremely interesting,” says designer Donatella Versace, who handpicked him for her Versus line of casual wear. “He has a raw, young, rare and sexy look.” To designer Cynthia Rowley, though, “what makes Greg really sexy is that he’s a troublemaker,” she says, laughing at the memory of how he ended her July fashion show, held around a Manhattan rooftop pool, with an impromptu, fully-clad dive in. Even soaking wet, she raves, “he’s an original hot item.”

When he was a shy, soccer-mad youngster, “people would tell me I was cute, but I don’t think anyone thought I was model material,” Payne says. “I was more the silent type. Mostly I’d just joke around with the boys and act silly.” But things have changed since he was discovered in 1995 at a London McDonald’s while on break from a bartending job. “Modeling has helped me open up a lot more,” he figures. “It’s built up my confidence.”

It hasn’t done much to beef up his effortlessly lanky 6’1″ form. Instead of going to to the gym, “sometimes I’ll just laze around and play Nintendo the whole day,” says Payne, who often camps out between assignments at the Greenwich Village apartment of girlfriend Giuliana Masiviero, 21, a Brazilian model. Luckily, he’s just as interested in romantic dinners (“nice music, dimmed lights, a little champagne,” he says), lots of flowers and lighthearted conversation. “I can’t stay mad at him,” Masiviero says. “He’ll start singing stupid songs and making me laugh. I don’t know how he can always be in a good mood.” Or look this good.