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It's like you say "foxy lady" in English. Or in my native language -- Norwegian -- the word for grouse is used (yes, the bird living in the mountains, in the hen family with pheasants etc.) It's even combineable with other words, e.g. 30 years ago people would say "exhaust grouse" about a babe who was riding with MC blokes :-)
If you call a girl you don't know as a gata, probably she wouldn't like it (depending on the situation and the person, I suppose). But it's ok in conversations with friends to say a girl is a "gata" or a boy is a "gato", so talking about someone else, that's fine... but saying this directly to the person, be aware.