Micheál Neeson is an unlikely champion for young British fashion design. The 19-year-old son of Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson is opening a new fashion gallery, Maison Mais Non, in London next week, serendipitously close to the Brewer Street Car Park, soon to be home to London Fashion Week.
We meet at L'Escargot in Greek Street, just opposite the gallery, where he's agreed to give me a sneak preview of the clothes - a collaboration between four Central Saint Martins graduates and four new generation Savile Row tailors. All are on the cusp of success and Neeson is hoping the show will push them over the edge. He's even agreed to model the clothes and he's an extraordinary muse, tall like his father, with striking blue eyes and surprisingly shy.
"Fashion was something I never went after before, but it's so important, as it shows who you are. Back in New York [where he grew up], I didn't have a good reputation for fashion, because I wore what I liked and I'd be called a hipster for just wearing a couple of chains. But one thing my mum taught me was to dress how you feel, dress how you want. She loved dressing up for every occasion and sometimes wore some pretty crazy stuff," he says, pulling at one of many friendship bracelets that adorn his tattooed forearms.
Neeson has come a long way since the day his mother hit her head while skiing at the Mont Tremblant ski resort in Quebec in March 2009. Seemingly all right when it happened, she complained of a headache later that day but fell into a coma. She was taken off the life support machine two days later, having suffered an epidural haematoma. Neeson was 13, his brother Daniel a year younger.
The entire family rallied and provided a strong support framework for the teenage boys; two years later Neeson decided he wanted to go to boarding school in Kent, Connecticut. "Mum went to boarding school and I liked the idea of an English boarding school. But I was also definitely getting away from a lot of things. I guess even though the family became so much closer there was a void and I filled it with friends." One family friend who helped was Bono. "We were just talking and he said, 'Yeah I lost my mum at your age too', and that was all he said. Dad was really touched. Bono wasn't saying it as in, look at what I became."
Understandably Neeson struggled in his teens, partying hard. "I was putting socialising with my friends as my top priority. Rock bottom was when I chose to miss classes to meet up with them, as well as not realising that family - and work - come first. After a while, I thought, 'What am I doing? This is instant gratification; there's no substance to your conversation'."
Last summer, Neeson decided to turn his life around and took himself to a "wilderness therapy" camp in Utah for a month. "In order to find myself, I wanted to get down to the old roots of Mother Nature," he says. "Of course, other articles bigged it up as a sob story about a celebrity child who goes to rehab, which really wasn't the case. What I wanted to address was a lack of motivation and direction in my life."
He camped, cooked outdoors and learned to stitch leather bags "using primitive techniques" making new friends along the way. "People also talked a lot about their troubles. It was good to learn that you're not the only person going through rough times, because sometimes it can feel that way."
After that Neeson wanted a complete change of scene. He chose London, where his stitching skills stood him in good stead as an intern with Joe Morgan at Chittleborough & Morgan, the Savile Row tailors beloved of the Beatles, Elton John and the Jaggers. "It was a revelation. I learned about what dedication means and the many months spent making just one bespoke suit."
Neeson then moved seamlessly from Savile Row to Céline for another three months. "It was a real eye-opener. I'd thought it was this glamorous world of models and movie premieres. But there's so much blood, tears and stress that go into it." He did a lot of coffee runs and admired Phoebe Philo from afar. "She's a super cool human being," he observes, "very chill but funny at the same time, dirty-mouthed and hilarious."
Neeson says his internships taught him about "the power of persistence" and gave him the idea of bringing the disparate worlds of edgy conceptual fashion and Savile Row classic tailoring together. The launch show, Artist: Artisan, features Charles Jeffrey, Hayley Grundmann, Krystyna Kozhoma and Masha Reva from CSM rubbing up against Chittleborough & Morgan, Anderson & Sheppard, Richard Anderson and Kathryn Sargent.
"In the Row's 200-year history it's never happened, which is crazy, dude! To be honest, it was quite a challenge. They clashed at times but eventually learned to respect each other's craft."
He began the project with Topes Calland - renowned super tutor to troubled celebriteens - friend and co-director Nell Campbell and rising fashion photographer Toby Knott. Calland and Neeson share a flat in Knightsbridge. "Topes is an inspiration," says Neeson. "He has energy, he's fun and charismatic, but he can also break everything down and make it seem so simple, which I find hard."
Neeson also spends time at his grandmother Vanessa Redgrave's home. "She's become a mother figure to some extent, because she spent time looking after us. I can talk to her about anything and I'll go and ask her for a woman's advice. Not to sound cheesy, but she's a beautiful person." He also sees a lot of his aunt Joely and her daughter, Daisy Bevan, who starred in The Two Faces of January. But it is his father and brother, still in New York, who are "my homies for sure. Dad will be coming here for the show".
They all visit Ireland at least once a year and Neeson has been brought up with a clear understanding of the Troubles. "They were such a big part of dad's life. It wouldn't be rare for a car to get blown up on his way to school. It was tough. The older I get the more I realise, whoa! - we're blood, but we come from completely different walks of life."
Given his genes on both sides of the family, where is his inner actor?
"It's in there somewhere, it's lingering in the shadows, waiting for the right time to come out. Who knows when that might be, if ever? Actors haven't come straight out of the womb onto the stage. In order to get there, you have to have really lived. That's why a lot of them are super interesting."
What does his family think? "Dad was like, please become a carpenter or something. On my mum's side I was encouraged to do whatever I wanted. I've done a couple of drama courses. At the beginning I'd be shaking. Dad always said, 'just take three deep breaths', and it does work, although you don't want anyone seeing you do it," says Neeson, "but then you get lost in what you're doing and get that rush."
He could prove to be an exceptional actor one day if he chooses, but for now he's all about fashion and it's time for the shoot. He disappears to change out of his black jeans and purple corduroy shirt and reappears in Chittleborough & Morgan cream trousers and a striking red overcoat and belt by Charles Jeffrey.
Neeson has let his hair down, he looks beautiful and I can't help thinking how right he is about why fashion is so important.