03/16/2012 04:14 pm ET Updated Oct 11, 2012

A Special Day

There were two crucial moments yesterday when I received the Légion d'Honneur. The first one occurred during the lunch held at the Italian Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Giovanni Caracciolo di Vietri and attended by all the Italian and French fashion designers. The second one was at the Élysée, with President Nicholas Sarkozy and the Première Dame Carla.
Once again I want to share this truly special day with you.
This is the speech delivered by Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International:

The press sometimes describes Franca Sozzani as the Pope of fashion. Why is she perceived this way? Maybe because Franca is Italian and very powerful with a worldwide influence. Maybe because, like the Holy Father, she is universally known by her first name. Or maybe because when she speaks, she is considered to be.... infallible.

All of these things are true. But they do not go far enough in explaining Franca's uniqueness and why she is so deeply admired, respected and loved.

The story of Franca's early career is well known. How she graduated from university, a brainy intellectual with a degree in philosophy, and came to Condé Nast Italy to work as a lowly assistant. I think, her first job was at Vogue Bambini. She didn't know anything but she learned fast and her natural talent and drive opened the doors. She began to make her mark in the fashion and magazine world in the 1980s as editor of Lei, a young woman's magazine. A magazine full of compelling images created by a new generation of stylists and photographers. She was appointed editor of Vogue in 1987 when the previous director died, and I met her a couple of years after that.

I will never forget the impression Franca made upon me and I will say a few words about it because in the fashion world, how someone looks matters a lot. Here was this tiny, fragile -looking woman who could not have weighed more than 50 kilos. Dressed in a refined, chic and understated way. With piercing blue eyes, a dazzling smile and a crown of cascading, wavy blonde hair. A Hollywood director creating the image of a chic fashion editor could not have invented a more glamorous, arresting personification. Only Franca was the real thing.

And the appearance of a chic fashion editor was completely, more than completely, confirmed by her brilliant talent. Franca did much more than create a beautiful Vogue. She invented a new visual language and redefined how fashion and style was portrayed and communicated. She closely collaborated with photographers and stylists, giving them the freedom and scope to produce dramatic, provocative and beautiful images. Italian Vogue under Franca's direction pushed the limits. Vogue informed, surprised, dazzled and delighted its readers and the fashion and beauty industry professionals. It became the point of reference, the magazine every designer wanted to appear in and every photographer and stylist wanted to work for.

Franca has worked with all the great photographers in our industry from Bruce Weber to Peter Lindbergh, but one deserves special mention because he is Franca's indispensible collaborator, closely identified with Italian Vogue, and he is Steve Meisel. The team of Franca and Steven is the greatest partnership in the history of fashion photography. One hundred years from now, these images will be a point of reference and will continue to be studied.

Franca's creative genius, moreover, was accompanied by a keen understanding of the fashion business, what consumers wanted and how the idea and image of fashion had to be communicated in order to achieve success. And this is of vital importance. Franca understood that magazine editing and fashion itself are creative enterprises inextricably linked to commercial activity. She knows how to harness creativity to build the fashion business. There are many fashion designers, today household names with 80 metre yachts, who owe their fortune and fame to Franca and to Italian Vogue. To name only one, Giorgio Armani once sat outside her office holding a bag full of samples and waiting for an appointment.

In addition to a brilliant eye, creative talent and a huge capacity for hard work, Franca possesses another strength which is the mark of a great leader: courage. Franca is unafraid to say what needs to be said and to take a controversial position. In recent years Italian Vogue faced the issue of racism in fashion with the first black issue, featuring only black fashion models. And last year the curvy issue which addressed the taboo against heavier weight women. On her internet blog, Franca denounced the pro-anorexia websites which are hurting young women. In taking these positions Franca has taken a moral position and engaged in controversy where others have feared to speak.

Speaking of the Internet, it is not surprising that Franca has embraced the new media technology and produces one of the most popular and influential blogs. Nor is it a surprise that the United Nations appointed her as its fashion ambassador. These are signs of the way Franca continues to move forward and to redefine the fashion world.

All of these achievements would be enough to justify our presence here and Franca's prestigious award. But there is more. Franca's achievements and talent are matched by her rare character. She a person of integrity, honest and straight forward in her expression and relationships. She says what she thinks. She is an extremely loyal and thoughtful friend. She possesses enormous charm, a sense of humour and an unforgettable laugh. If you are in trouble, she is the friend who you will want to call and who will come to your aid with all her power. In carrying out her role she acts tougher than the strongest man but beneath the tough exterior, she is completely a woman.

And what a woman. She embodies the eye, the voice, the heart and the soul of Vogue and of fashion itself. Maybe that's why Franca is... the Pope.

Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to raise your glasses and to toast the beautiful, brilliant and wonderful woman whom we all love and admire, the high priestess of Vogue and the Pope of fashion, Franca Sozzani. To Franca.

And this is Nicholas Sarkozy's speech at the Élysée:

Franca Sozzani: here is a true personality of fashion. The editorial director of many Condé Nast publications, she has been the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia for the past 25 years, marking its artistic and financial success. She works with the greatest photographers, the greatest models, the greatest creators. She is the one who unveils the trends and the talents of tomorrow.
Despite the many people who believe that fashion is a superficial world she, who has studied Philosophy, has proved that style is the essence of modernity. She has opened up the world of fashion to other worlds. She has received numerous awards, hosted many exhibitions, published books, including 'A noir,' that was the first book to deal with the value of the color black in fashion.
She is also a brave woman: she is brave because she dares to speak about Italian fashion and its success in front of Carla. [laughs from the audience]

She fights against stereotypes, publishing an issue entirely devoted to black models, or denouncing the diktat of thinness affecting younger girls. Two issues which no one in the fashion world had tackled with such strength and fervor before.
For these reasons I salute her as a great friend of France, who has done so much for French fashion. And today, it is France's turn to thank her, naming her Knight of the Légion d'Honneur.