It's hardly a secret that the right shoes, frock and hair with just enough bounce can make a reveller swing. But the truly savvy - Bianca Brandolini, Pixie Geldof, Poppy Delevingne - know that the real key to successful partying is something subtler and more expert at telling jokes. Theirs is a weapon that will fit any dress code and it's reliable; unlike a conventional date, who can diminish a woman by association or make a party seem insignificant in their presence. Clever girls do their cavorting with a walker in tow.
The term "walker" was coined in the Seventies by John Fairchild, then publisher of Women's Wear Daily, to describe a gang of gregarious, serpent-tongued, almost exclusively gay men who accompanied married women - whose husbands were either indifferent, in the office or interested in other women - on the New York social circuit. Truman Capote was the trailblazing walker, not because he was a babysitter, but because he was an alchemist who famously made socialites "swans"; he gave them celebrity, they gave him access to a world he hankered after.
Roll on more than 40 years, and - in terms of money and social kudos - computer-literate billionaires threaten to leave plain wordsmiths for toast. But the walker still exists, exercising as important a social role as ever. And his natural habitat is the fashion world where, credit crunch or not, the parties remain glamorous and straight men are rare commodities, scared off by the conversation, the clothes and the curiously beautiful
girls. Whatever the walker's sexuality, he isn't at the party to get a date, otherwise he'd be known as something quite different - regardless of how many fashion parties Leonardo DiCaprio may clock up in a year, he'll never be classed a walker.
The urbane New Yorker Derek Blasberg has a good claim on being today's most successful fashion walker. Helpfully, his professional life is in the industry - he's a freelance journalist - and, in a nod to his social creator, Capote, he has written Classy, a book on etiquette. His best buddies are fashion's female elite: Dasha Zhukova, Karlie Kloss, all four Courtin-Clarins cousins - the list is as endless as the legs it represents. You can be confident your star is in the ascendant if Derek seeks you out at a party to post your picture on his Instagram or Twitter accounts (85,000 and 134,000 followers respectively, and rising). Stylist Sophia Hesketh analyses his power: "I first met Derek at a party in Moscow. Then, when I moved to New York, he made sure I was always at the best parties with him. His acerbic wit keeps everyone near him entertained - he's a great date."
Constantly tiptoeing along a tightrope of social requirements, the walker must be discreet about his date but able to tell her the rest of the party's secrets. He must laugh uproariously at her jokes (independent of their wit) and be sharply entertaining himself. He must not get tired, nor be so enthusiastic as to outshine whomever he is with. Andrew Bevan, another New York-based walker, takes this criteria in his stride. Juliette Lewis, Kate Bosworth and Coco Rocha are just some of the girls who might be found beside him on the red carpet. And yet Andrew, who is style editor at Teen Vogue, is philosophical about his status: "There are moments when I wonder who would be my friend if I quit to work at Starbucks tomorrow," he says.