NEW YORK -- It seems the fashion crowd, especially when fully decked out for Monday night's Council of Fashion Designers of America awards, can be pretty intimidating: CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said so, actress Naomi Watts said so, and even Lady Gaga said so.

On stage to accept her award as the year's top style icon, a soft-spoken, maybe even teary-eyed Gaga said she was nervous.

"All of you made me feel like a star before I was," she told the audience at Lincoln Center that boasted bold-faced names such as Marc Jacobs, Anna Wintour, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan and Michael Kors.

She talked about how important fashion was in her life as a pathway to self-discovery, artistry and confidence. As a teenager, she'd save her money to buy vintage Thierry Mugler from a neighborhood thrift shop. She planned her outfits for Friday night's parties as if she was going to the Oscars, she said.

But the music star and style risk-taker, wearing a corset get-up by Mugler, got her swagger back as she recalled getting the text message from Wintour that she was picked for the prize.

She said she thought the message was from a friend named Anna and replied with a bleep-worthy response. The text back from the Vogue editor-in-chief said, "How lovely."

That led to laughter -- and so did Cooper's montage of his early days as a preteen model.

Cooper, a longtime friend of CFDA president von Furstenberg, said he decided to show his photos to prove his fashion cred since he was acting as master of ceremonies.

"There was no way you'd be critical," he joked, "or that's what Diane said, anyway."

Watts presented the top womenswear honor to Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler. But she seemed to find the awkward walk across a long stage intimidating in her high heels. "That was easy," she said as she reached the podium. "Fun doing it in a room full of supermodels."