Rugged & Fancy

Finding a pure life.

Written by Lindsey Lowe           

Photographed by Liesa Cole


I met musician Duquette Johnston and his wife, Morgan, a jewelry designer, at Duquette’s label, Communicating Vessels, which Morgan affectionately calls their second home. Duquette—often just “Duq”—made a pot of coffee and we settled down to talk about Rugged & Fancy, a movement created by the two. As they began to explain how the adjectives rugged and fancy so aptly describe their life together, their little cub, Tennessee Wolf, started to cry. “It’s a dichotomy,” Morgan says. “What’s rugged has a little bit of fancy, and what’s fancy has a little bit of rugged.” She realized right about that time that Tennessee needed his diaper changed and began to laugh. I laughed too, because I saw her point: Sometimes, in the middle of a magazine interview, somebody has to change a dirty diaper. Life is rugged, and it’s fancy.

Rugged & Fancy was first the title of an album Duquette recorded over the course of three days in early 2010 (you can find his work at In the years that followed, however, the pair came to adopt it as a philosophy for living. “We started looking at the phrase, rugged and fancy, and realizing it applied to our lives,” Duquette says.

“At first it was kind of a joke,” Morgan breaks in to explain. “Like, ‘Oh, he’s rugged, and I’m fancy.’ But then it evolved.”

“We started looking at it philosophically and how it applied to life,” Duquette picks up. “Looking at the balance. We’re all about balance.”

That balance has defined every aspect of their lives, from the clothes they wear, to the music to which they listen, to how many commitments they make. “It’s so easy in this world to get too far extreme into something,” Morgan says. “It started out as a lens to look at the way we do things in our own life, like decorating our home or working or creating. And then, because of his music and stuff, it just kept evolving.” But how does Rugged & Fancy translate into a philosophy? Well, the Johnstons call it a “lifestyle initiative,” but they explain that they’ve broken that very phrase down into a subhead of, “life, style, and initiative.” They believe that those elements work in tandem to make up a balanced life. And it’s this balance between the rugged and the fancy, as well as their determination to live creatively, that they desire to share with others. “People have always come to us for recommendations or creative advice. They’re trying to find advice because somehow, by the grace of God, we’ve managed to live creatively full-time,” Morgan explains.

“We wanted to encourage people to live their lives in the purest way they could, the way they’re called to live their lives,” Duquette says. “We’re trying to share with others through creativity and art. We are called to be creative. We are made to be creative people, and we can try to steer them in a creative way.” Much of that is about balancing the creative life itself; Morgan emphasizes that Rugged & Fancy is not about encouraging people to become starving artists. “As much as people think that creatives are these hippie free spirits, you have to have discipline, or you can’t make it work,” she says.

The Johnstons say a key element to their success is vulnerability in that sharing. They strive to immerse every area of their lives in the creative spirit, and to show others that such a thing is possible. One way they do that is by frequently updating their account on Instagram (ruggedandfancy) and on their blog on the Rugged & Fancy website, which was launched in 2012 ( Morgan says the communities created there have supported them as they’ve faced challenges and have honored their vulnerability. They post scenes of their well-curated style—the fancy, if you will—as well as snapshots of life when it gets rugged, like when Tennessee is up howling at 3 a.m. And on their blog, they’ve shared everything from hip music to a roundup of the softest T-shirts to an essay about what it’s like to have a postpartum body (Morgan posted that one, obviously.) They’ve been rewarded with a strong, ever-growing community that challenges and comforts them, they say. “That’s why we try to be more vulnerable with who we are,” Morgan says. “If it was our choice, we would be totally private people. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard for me sometimes, especially writing about very personal things. But there have been some people who have reached out to me who said, ‘What you said encouraged me,’ and that means a whole lot to me. Collaborating is a huge part of life. You can only grow so much as an artist [on your own].”

Even so, they’ve also learned that part of the balance is stepping back and refocusing. That happened most recently after Tennessee’s birth in March. Morgan experienced postpartum complications, and she says that what was best for them was to take some time completely off. They both took a 10-day “pause,” during which they didn’t answer any email, engage with social media, or talk on the phone. Duquette shares that it was a bartering game—part of the balance depends on trading in some things to gain others. For example, on the day they decided to pause, he realized he needed to take Morgan to the emergency room. He learned in the same hour they arrived there that his song had won a contest on MTV, which demanded that he begin heavy promoting; both he and Morgan were caught between what it meant for his career and what they needed to do to help her return to good health. “While I’m [at the hospital] walking to get a snack, I get a tweet that I won,” Duquette says. “Meanwhile, [Morgan] is in the emergency bay.”

“We were both tweeting about it, and I had this potentially deadly bacterial infection. It was this moment of, ‘Wow, I need a perspective check. We just need to stop for a minute,’” Morgan says. And so they did. It’s moments like those that continually teach them what living a balanced life is all about.

And that life, just like Rugged & Fancy, is always evolving, and both Duquette and Morgan say they want to give it space to do so. One thing that they’re excited to announce is the opening of an e-commerce store, which will be available through their website. The store will share things the pair (and others) designed, like a T-shirt that says, “Surf East Lake” (which they have produced in the past and are bringing back due to popular demand) and a curated collection of things they’ve gathered on their travels, including artisan fans and unique pottery. Their hope is to offer things that they find beautiful and inspiring; it’s a way of continuing to share themselves with the world. “The items are chosen based on aesthetics, beauty, and functionality, even if that function is to fulfill a certain wanderlust or pure admiration,” Morgan explains. Additionally, the jewelry Morgan designs will be available later this year through the store, as well as by private sale.

They’re certain that in the coming years the Rugged & Fancy philosophy will continue to become even more embedded in who they are and the brand will lead them into new explorations. “Rugged & Fancy as a brand is not just a business,” Duquette says. “The lifestyle initiative makes sense because it’s truly the way we try to live our lives. Through that, we want to continue to grow it so we can continue to fund our lives and grow our dream and at the same time be available to help others figure out what their calling is.”

Morgan agrees: “At the end of the day, we’re all just people. We all have relatively the same experiences, both trials and celebrations. If you’re just really being you, there’s so much that can happen. There’s still a lot of good in the world, and we just want to tap into that.”

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