André Leon Talley was "totally surprised" to have been chosen to receive the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
The former U.S. Vogue creative director and editor-at-large had no idea he was in the running to receive the honour before he was notified on Monday by France's minister of culture Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin.
"I was totally surprised," Talley told WWD. "Listen. It was the best day of my life. I say that with sincerity to be a commanding officer of the de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, and to be recognised by the Republic of France is a great honour."
Previous recipients of the prestigious honour include Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Tina Turner, and Paul Auster.
The award was established in 1957 to recognise artists, writers and other individuals who have contributed to the arts in France.
Talley said he has always felt an affinity for the European country.
"I am a person who has appreciated the relevancy of France - the culture, the history, and every aspect of refinement, style, architecture, gardens, fashion, haute cuisine, Versailles, churches, the history - even its bad history, i.e., the revolution and the guillotine. I think I am a custodian of France," he explained.
Talley lived in France for two years in the late '70s while working for Women's Wear Daily and again from 1989 to 1995, and credits his high school teacher for first sparking his love for the country.
The 72-year-old icon can't wait for the ceremony, although the details of when it will take place are still unknown.
"It's a celebration already," he said. "It's a great honour and a great achievement. You couldn't ask for anything higher. There are different levels, but just to be named a chevalier is amazing, especially for an African American Black man from the South. This is a great achievement for my race. I came from very modest, humble beginnings."