Estévez, who now lives in Montecito, California, regards today’s social stars as “tarty” and suggests that the walker became unnecessary once the Pierre’s ballroom opened up to pop stars and reality-TV icons. “In the fifties and sixties, women of style required men of style. So the walkers and the wives depended on each other,” he says. “Like Jerry Zipkin: He was a total shit, but he knew how to make a woman feel noticed, important.”
Zipkin, the heir to a real estate fortune, is the standard by which all other walkers are measured. The secret to his success? “I believe a woman can have a best man-friend, and a man can have a best man-friend,” he said in a 1981 interview. “But a woman cannot have a best woman-friend. A best woman-friend will do her in.”
Woman’s best man-friend—this was Zipkin, razor-tongued and limo-ready, possessed of a collection of jeweled cuff links to rival Imelda Marcos’s shoes. His walking spanned two eras: There were C.Z. Guest and the Duchess of Windsor and, later, the Le Cirque set, including Louise Grunwald, Chessy Rayner, Pat Buckley, and his favorite bony elbow, Nancy Reagan. Famously frank, his dish-and-take style occasionally landed him in trouble. (Zipkin once approached Anne Slater at a party and told her, “I don’t like the color of that lipstick.” “Well, Jerry,” she replied, “you shouldn’t wear it then.”) Zipkin wasn’t above feuding with the women in his life. He fell out with Buckley one year at the Met Costume Institute Gala when she seated his walkee that night, the Duchess of Cadaval, next to her husband and placed Zipkin somewhere out in the tundra.
“Jerry was surrounded by smart, witty women,” says Cornelia Guest, who herself was chaperoned—the word she prefers—by Halston as a teenager, and whose famous mother, C.Z., often enlisted the services of a walker. “Nowadays guys have to listen to some movie star gab all night. And the guys have so much social ambition themselves that sometimes it looks like the women are walking them.”
Indeed, current society is so diffuse, so full of outcroppings, that it would be difficult to name an heir to the Zipkin estate. In Los Angeles, Alex Hitz is still mentioned as escort to the old guard, but that city’s agents and publicists—the Huvanes, Bryan Lourd—do Hollywood’s most conspicuous walking. In New York, Dimitri of Yugoslavia is a modern-day double threat in the mold of Coco Chanel’s jeweler, the Sicilian duke Fulco di Verdura: He has a title, and he makes expensive baubles. Young fashion designers walk their favorite clients: Prabal Gurung walks Elettra Wiedemann, Jason Wu walks Olivia Chantecaille, and the Proenza Schouler boys walk the Traina girls. In London, the billionairess Lily Safra can now count on Elton John, once Princess Diana’s walker, to ferry her to fetes around town. Kate Middleton, with her still-game husband usually in tow, has yet to anoint a walker. But she will.