Cesar Quirumbay, who succumbed to Covid-19 on Sunday night at the age of 60, touched the lives of some of America’s most prominent actors, billionaires and businessmen. Yet very few people blessed by his touch ever knew his name.
For the past 20 years, Mr. Quirumbay worked at the New York tailoring shop owned by Leonard Logsdail, a London transplant who has made custom suits for people willing and able to pay $8,000 for a handmade jacket and pair of trousers since 1991. Mr. Logsdail’s midtown shop is a leisurely place, with leather club chairs and stacks of magazines and soft fabrics arranged in gentle disarray.
In the back, Mr. Quirumbay — I knew him only as Cesar — worked tirelessly, sewing and measuring and pressing, rarely speaking and never complaining about the heat of the iron or the coolness of some of the shop’s more demanding customers. He put the finishing touches on suits for Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Koch, Larry Kudlow and countless managing directors, doctors and dandies. It was Mr. Quirumbay’s hands that were the last to touch each garment that left Logsdail’s.
Mr. Quirumbay immigrated to New Jersey in 1999 and showed up at Logsdail’s door in Manhattan within days of his arrival to inquire about a job. He and his wife, Irma, had left their two young boys back home in Ecuador and wanted first to secure employment before attempting to reunite their family. A friend of Mr. Quirumbay who worked in the trade suggested that Mr. Logsdail might be hiring.
When Mr. Logsdail asked Mr. Quirumbay what sort of tailoring he was capable of, he expected to hear the usual puffery he so often heard from prospective hires. But Mr. Quirumbay was made of different stuff. “I do alterations only,” he replied, and his honesty won him a spot on Mr. Logsdail’s team.
The world of high-end bespoke clothing places extraordinary demands on a tailor; a jacket can take upward of 30 hours to create. For a lapel to roll perfectly, no fewer than 300 hand stitches are required. But Mr. Quirumbay grew into his role.
“There was something special about Cesar,” Mr. Logsdail told me. “He was artistic in his DNA. It’s not just about stitching things together. It’s about stitching things together properly. With a lot of tailors, there’s sometimes a sense of ‘that’ll do,’ which is a terrible attitude to have, because it will not do. I never had to talk to him about his work.”
And Mr. Quirumbay worked a lot, from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., five days a week, and on Saturdays, too, from 8 until 2. When a deadline shifted at the last minute and a suit needed to be produced for Russell Crowe to wear for a shoot the next morning in Brooklyn, he worked 23 hours straight to ensure that the costume was finished, pressed and ready by sunrise.
Then there was the time that Mr. Quirumbay and his fellow tailor Ki Soo Jeong, a Korean immigrant, spent a weekend trying to make a suit and a bomber jacket out of a single sheet of purple plastic for Ben Stiller to wear in “Zoolander 2.” Mr. Quirumbay didn’t speak Korean, Mr. Ki doesn’t speak Spanish, and neither of them really mastered English. But despite all that — and though the iron kept melting the plastic — they pulled it off. The duo made an impressive team and were constantly cracking each other up with jokes that were unintelligible to any outsider. Mr. Logsdail said it was as if they invented their own language.
What motivated Mr. Quirumbay weren’t the vistas his job afforded him into the world of celebrity. It was the fact that by his labor he was providing for his wife and five children.
Mr. Quirumbay believed in what the United States had to offer an immigrant like him. The two sons he had left behind in Ecuador were brought to the United States just a few months after he started working at Logsdail’s. They grew up in New Jersey and joined the military, one the Army, the other the Marines. The Quirumbays went on to have three more children — two daughters, both of whom now have children of their own, and another son, now in college. Along the way, Mr. Quirumbay and his wife became American citizens and bought a house. “Everything he obtained he worked for,” Mr. Logsdail wrote on Instagram. “As I said, the embodiment of the American dream.”
Every obituary is both a remembrance of a life ended and an instruction to those of us still living. Mr. Quirumbay wasn’t just another 59-year-old who succumbed to a pandemic; he was one of the many excellent Americans whose spirit and labor make this country possible, even — or particularly — in times of crisis.
Before Mr. Quirumbay passed away, he shared a last phone call with his son. “Make sure you call Mr. Logsdail so he knows I can’t work and where I am at,” Mr. Quirumbay said from his deathbed. “There is a lot to be done.”
Matthew Miller works in real estate in New York City.