Fashion: Enigma variations

Owen Gaster may be more than a little mysterious, but the appeal of his clothes is clear enough, says Rebecca Lowthorpe. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Donna Francesca

Owen Gaster looks like an Irish jockey - his body is slight and stringy and his face, full of bony features, breaks into a broad grin all the time. His hair is receding, although at 29, he still looks like an impish teenager. If it weren't for a few clues: frayed-hemmed mohair trousers and fancy snakeskin slip-on shoes - you would never know he was "artistic", let alone one of Britain's most highly regarded fashion designers.

On the fashion circuit, an Owen Gaster show is an event not to be missed. The clothes are up close and personal as models weave in and out of the audience, allowing the goods to be checked out at close quarters. Picture a pool-hall patrolled by sassy models - part ragga queens, part nightclub hostesses; or a miniature fairground complete with candyfloss stands, a rifle range and dodgems. Another show featured a great open-air catwalk looped like a skateboarders' ramp, underneath London's Westway flyover, where models looked like replicants descending from their spaceship. His most recent presentation, held in a disused shop basement on Bond Street, had partially clad models posing in mocked-up shop windows that flickered with two-way mirrors - now you see them, now you don't. ("We hired a magician for that show," says Gaster, proudly.)

Yet for all the hoopla of these "events", he is something of an enigma to the fashion world. Gaster lives in Brighton ("not the posh bit"), favouring the reclusive coastline to the cut and thrust of London's fashion scene. He is also a family man, with partner Sindy and 10-month-old son Rocko. (Had Rocko been a girl he would have been called Stiletto - so it might be fair to say that Gaster isn't entirely anti-fashion.)

What made him want to be a fashion designer in the first place? "I've just always had a joy, a passion for it," he says in a low whispy voice - no doubt a symptom of years of chain- smoking Marlboro Lights. "It was an exciting time for fashion during my teenage years, in the Eighties, when image and labels and football culture reigned supreme," he reminisces. "Plus there was BodyMap, Galliano, a whole rich culture of clothes." Did he enjoy wearing those clothes, creating a wild image for himself during his teens? "My mum asked me if I was gay when I wanted to buy a shirt with a big bow on it. And my dad used to say there would be some 'funny' people in the business. But," says Gaster, by way of explanation, "they are from rural Sussex."

Gaster was born in Lebanon in 1970. His parents (father Irish, mother English), ran language laboratories for oil companies and universities, but returned to England, to Harlow, when Owen was five. His memories of Lebanon are disjointed: "Sea, mountains, army tanks, forests with huge pine cones and dogs being shot to prevent rabies." What about the Lebanese dress code, has it ever inspired him? "What? Men wearing baggy trousers and a fez?" He chuckles. "In a way though, I suppose. They do wear clothes with a kind of flashy arrogance - casino clothes."

Gaster graduated from Epsom college in 1992 with a raw, futuristic collection that shot its way into style bibles i-D and Interview. After years of financial struggle - the sort all fledgling design talents seem to have to endure in the UK - Gaster pulled through, thanks to Italian manufacturer Casor, which stepped in as his backer a year ago (Lawrence Steele and Emilio Pucci belong to the same stable). Around that time, he also won sponsorship for his twice-yearly catwalk shows from the store group BhS. In return, he designs a capsule tailoring range for the high-street retailer which he says, "gave me a chance to show I could do anything I put my mind to". Today his clothes can be found in America, France, Italy and Japan as well as the UK.

Owen Gaster is a fashion designer's designer - respected by his peers for his strong signature and his relentless pursuit of complex cutting techniques. He thrives on the architecture of fashion: a jacket made from no less than 116 pieces; an intricate waterfall drape on a jersey top or dress; other-worldly fabrics that mould or loop around the body.

If any criticism can be levelled at him, it is that occasionally his designs actually look complicated, rather than deceptively simple. Perhaps he is a show off, or perhaps simple clothes are not his bag. Whatever, he is a designer worth watching, and wearing too

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?